With the eyes of a hawk, I watched the people enter this Episcopal church on an overcast day upon this island, the first Sunday after Christmas.
In the “biz”, we sometimes refer to these Sundays that follow major feast days such as Christmas and Easter as “Low Sundays”. Mostly, it’s descriptive as to the reduction in numbers. We clergy get sensitive to numbers, particularly after “packing the place” on the culturally conducive attendance dates. The attendance is boosted by the holiday car ads of St. Nick driving a Benz or the bunny who lays Cadbury Cream eggs. It’s called collateral marketing and it is a thing.
We clergy tend to be a sensitive sort, and so “Low” can refer to our spirit as well. Sometimes the sheer abundance of activity tends to deflate our balloon of spirit and we leave the major holidays “done”. Smart clergy sometimes leave town, and the conduct of the liturgy, “the work of the people”, to their assistants. Maybe that’s just me. My fellow clergy are probably more sanctified.
So, here I am, still energized by the Christmas Eve craziness, meeting my daughter’s new relatives in-laws, heading to my favorite liturgical spot on the planet, on what is typically a “low” Sunday, but not for me. Not this Sunday.
I have am rarely an observer like this, as I am either cast in the role as actor or director. It’s rather odd, looking on, with no nerves of performance, no blast of adrenaline. Just watching. Observing people in their comings and goings. Odd, that I do not really know these folks as of yet, so my projection and imaginings are as pure as they can get, at least for me….liturgical Rorschach.
I love the people, as they come through the door which is oddly at the side of the church building. The door is closed, so the people have to open it, like a package at Christmas, not knowing what is there: an empty church, a convention of Amway Diamond Distributors, or merely other sojourners ducking inside on their journey in the storm. Was it St. Augustine who opined that life was like a box of chocolates? Wrong saint.
Some enter with anticipation, looking up, to left and to the right. Some look bored, same ole thing, one more time. Some come looking for a place, a seat in which to sit, a pew in which to ride the magical, mystery tour of worship. Some are looking for a simple seat on the bus, to get on down the road.
One of the things I have learned through the years is that each person, no matter how plain or weathered, has a story. It may be that they do not know how to tell it well, but they have a story. It is a story that tells a narrative of how they wound up in this particular and peculiar place at this time. It’s not by mere chance. It may be pure whim this morning, but their presence here is over-determined by many factors that go back to the very eternal moment of their birth. They may not have a natal star, but they do have a story. So many things could have stopped them from being here in this moment.
The car that hydroplaned on the interstate, sliding their vehicle through the median into oncoming traffic.
The bar fight when someone pulled out a gun and shot randomly into the crowd.
The closed artery called the Widowmaker that shut down blood flow.
The drunk driver who crossed the line of sobriety and roadway.
The indigent visitor who pulled a gun on you in the office. Surprise, surprise!
The drug addict who tried to rob you to feed his ravenous habit.
The Klansman whose racism drove him to break into the home.
The angry parishioner who challenged you in the parking lot late in the night.
Wait. That’s just me and how the hell I got here. I’m the spectator, remember!
The truth is that everyone has their own story that could have been truncated by a variety of decisive moments of fate.
And yet you are here. Entering, Looking. Exploring, Deciding. Sitting, Being.
And I find myself watching, spectating, wondering, imagining.
A large man, ruddy-faced with a bushy white beard, like a Santa substitute from Central Casting, but too burly. Perhaps a retired ship’s captain who has found his port of rest.
A couple, old and bent, who enter holding hands in a non-posed way, smiling without words at one another.
A thin woman in grey, who looks like she’s missing someone, a widow perhaps. Her kneeling, her demonstrations of piety speak to deep spirit, still hungry for the Mystery. Or is it routine, something to count on?
A family enters, led by the mother hen, children and husband in tow, taking what I presume is their regular pew, that no one else dares to sit in.
A retirement-aged man, enters alone and sits in the middle of the pew, seemingly inviting someone, anyone, to join him. I did mention “projection”.
A young couple, in their twenties, enter giggling to one another, about the night before, that God might be blushing about, or a joke that only they know.
A preppy boy, with one side of his shirt tail out, who seems to feel out of place, wondering why he is here. But he is.
A twenty-something woman in a jean jacket who literally slides into the building and into the nearest pew she can find. A refugee perhaps, but from what?
A large bearded man, with slicked back hair, very PBS Scots-manor looking, with two red-headed daughters. Or one daughter and a very young wife….which is it? They take up a whole pew and a space in my imagination.
These are just a few of the “all sorts and conditions” of humans that have made their way to this spot in the woods on an island for a time appointed to worship a Creator God, a Spirit that joins us together in our common existence, our birth, our living of our days, and our death. And at a time I dared to call “low”. Not for them! This is life, ordinary, and sublime.
As we gather, I pause. I lean into the space, dragging behind my particular and peculiar story, like a U Haul trailer, and offer my prayer.
A spectator, no more. A participant. A player, perhaps.
What shall it be? The music begins, “Joy to the World”,and my soul begins to dance. Definitely, a player.
Definitely. I’m an excellent player.
Definitely, joy. Thanks, St. Forrest. Or was it Ray?