Posts tagged ‘church’

January 16, 2013

A Bit of Goose Down, Harbored

He is already in the pew when I walk through the sanctuary doors.  I genuflect and take my seat four rows back. He has been there every Sunday that I’ve been there over the past four years, so I have no reason to assume he’s ever missed a Sunday, outside of the fact that he’s human, but given my seasons of spotty attendance, I make no guarantees.

But he’s impossible to miss.  He imposes himself upon your memory. His smooth head is free of nicks and the goatee surrounding his pursed lips is conscientiously trimmed. The skin of his brow balled up at the top of his nose as he scowls warily ahead. The first time I saw him, a Wisconsin Badgers football t-shirt, of the team unity variety, was stretched across his shoulders.

What had happened to him? I am, not for the first time, perplexed. He is six foot five, two hundred forty-eight pounds of muscle, and another fifteen pounds of fat. Why is he not at least on an NFL back-up? He could devour any foursome in this church. Why is he here on a Sunday and not preparing for a coliseum?

We have been standing through the processional of Lift High the Cross, and we remain so as the priest leads us in the liturgy:

“Bless the Lord who forgives all our sins.”

“His mercy endures forever,” we reply in splintered union.

The worship band, making one of its better organ-less attempts at traditional sober church music, leads us in a variation of the Kyrie.

“Kyrie eleison, Lord have mercy; Christe eleison, Christ have mercy.”

I stare down, toeing decade old gum, as the priest corrals our cries for mercy in the collect. I listen, comprehend, and affirm without my memory retaining the procession of syllables.  As we take our seats, the readers approach the lectionary. “A reading from the letter of Saint Paul…”

Again, I hear words I affirm, but five minutes later will be unable to recollect their reading. Instead, the focus of my attention is the infant in the arms of his grandmother immediately in front of me. In a white onesie sporting horsehide stitches and pinstripes, he sits upon her jackknifed left arm, following the most recent visual stimulation: the cross earrings dangling from her ears. His chubby hands clench and unclench at the air excitedly as his eyes grow wide, absorbing the light reflecting from the golden surface. Finally, unable to restrain himself, he lunges with both uncoordinated hands for her earlobe. He misses. The cross dangles freely but perturbed.

The child chokes a giggle at the dancing ornament. He bats at it twice with his right hand, grabs his grandmother’s chin with his left, and is jarred by the solid object his hand encounters.

“…word of the Lord.” The reader swallows the first word of the liturgy. I empathize.

“Thanks be to God.”

Grandmother turns toward the tiny fiend pinching the loose skin of her chin, her jaw dropped in mock surprise. The babe stares for a moment before excitedly waving his arm as a fledgling trying to rise from the nest, his own mouth opened in a cavernous, toothless smile; his attempts at flight falter and he merely lunges forward catching himself with the folds of his grandmother’s neck.

We rise with our Alleluias as the Gospel processes to the center of the Sanctuary. The deacon reading is old enough to have a ten year old in Sunday School, but young enough to still fit in Apple’s commercial paradigm.

“The Gospel according to Luke.”

“Glory to you, Lord Christ.”  I am one of a handful to cross my brow, my lips, and my heart.

The good news of my salvation is proclaimed, but my attention has yet to leave the child in his grandmother’s arms. His tiny eyes catch mine intruding upon his personal space. I respond to his sober stillness with a smile and he counters with a concerned scowl and grips his matriarch’s thin blouse all the tighter.  A second’s pause. Then I purse my lips, puff my cheeks like a balloon, and pull back the drapes of my eyes. My tiny audience widens his own eyes in surprise before tossing away his caution, unclenching his jaw to open the toothless chasm and gasp out a giggle.

“The Gospel of the Lord”

“Praise to you, Lord Christ.” And we drop back to our seats.

The sermon commences and I concur, but this afternoon I won’t recall what was said. The hazards of being a visual, not auditory, learner. It certainly doesn’t help when there is an infant constantly distracting me with his affinity for laughter. The sermon is the worst time to be exciting a child, and I’ve started a game he is unwilling to finish. When I cease to play, his boredom frustrates him and he begins to fuss. He manages to grasp Grandmother’s dangling earring, and he cries as she extracts it from his grasp; she whisks him off to the narthex, freeing my focus to either return to the sermon or explore the room—it’s a draw.

We rise for the Creed and we fall for Confession. We stand for the Peace and sit for the Offertory. We rise for the Doxology and yet bow our heads for the Celebration of the Sacraments. And we kneel again to contemplate the impending distribution of Grace to a collection of broken individuals.

My own contemplation is distracted as my gaze falls upon his shaved head. How many Sundays have I stared at the back of that head? He is nearly an enigma, but for her constant, complimentary presence. The white plumage, permed into manageable curls, is all that is visible as it barely reaches his slouched shoulders in the pew. My own grandmother, in a northern Minnesota nursing home, has the same hair, though it is probably thinner now than it was three years ago.

The LEMs are positioned, prepared to share the Paschal feast they bear. The usher waits to piously allow a trickle of postulants forward; there is no need for haste, loaves and fishes will feed five thousand, our bread and wine will feed five hundred. The sluice-gates creak open and the first row trickles out.

The usher takes a second step backwards, and the linebacker rises. Maybe he’s just older than I think he is. No, that can’t be; there are no flecks of grey in that goatee. Instead of quickly stepping into the aisle to his left, he cautiously leans to his right, a near genuflect, and gently wraps his massive right arm around her frail frame, gently supporting her far elbow as she lifts herself, grasping his left hand with her own. He guides her out of the aisle until they are clear of the pew and they reconfigure her left hand in the crook of his jackknifed right elbow. She is bit of goose down harbored in the lee of his stonish build. Baby steps, more of a shuffle, down the inclined aisle toward the holiness. The Eucharist is placed in her wrinkled and blotched hands and she lifts glory to her lips. He stoically accepts the Host himself before escorting his charge to the chalice and then along the long walk back through the pew, negotiating the hazards of purses and hymnals. Her gait is ponderous – when they return to their seats, the act of sitting is deliberate and labored, even with his aid.

As their procession ends, the usher releases my pew. I genuflect and somberly proceed toward the table, to eat the same bread and drink the same wine, our lips on the same chalice today that was used last year and the year before that to administer the same sacrament of four millennia. I cross myself before each portion and declare firmly my Amens after, though not with the volume my father does. I retreat to my pew, genuflecting and kneeling again in contemplative prayer.

The worship team invites the congregation to stand as they finish the contemporary communion songs, but I remain on my knees. When I do join the standing ranks of saints for the Prayer of Thanksgiving, I see the doting grandmother has returned from the narthex and the child is asleep on her shoulder. She sways gently and tiny tear stains are evident on his cheeks.

“The blessing of God Almighty, The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be with you now and forever more.”


As the worship band plays the intro to the recessional hymn I open my hymnal to 390, Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation. Oh, how this congregation needs an organ! Towards the end of the second verse the Cross passes my row and I genuflect. The caravan of clergy, acolytes, LEMs, and choir recede and we offer the fourth verse toward the bare altar, cleared of the broken bread.

“Praise to the Lord! O let all that is in me adore him! All that hath life and breath come now with praises before him! Let the amen sound from his people again; gladly forever adore him.”

As I close my hymnal and grab my coat, the deacon’s voice projects from the speakers, “Go forth into the world in peace, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.”

My voice mingles with a congregation of sons and daughters, lifting the prayers of mothers upon grandmothers and fathers upon grandfathers, who have shared the same feast, “Thanks be to God.”


This is dedicated to my grandmothers, Doris Kelley and Terry Schlossberg, for loving me when I am a brat and for their holiness and faithfulness. I love you both, even when I am a brat.