At my church we’re having a discussion series on church—a fitting place to talk about it—and my co-leader brought his from Marilyn Sandberg.
When They Revolutionize Cocktail Parties
“Hello, what are you afraid of?”
“When you hear a Mahler symphony?”
“No, when I wake up in the night.”
“No, when I wake up in the night.”
“Nice meeting you”
The stark simplicity of the scene is riveting; how often do we hear something earth shattering and then sweep it under the rug with polite chatter? It would, for sure, be quite a revolutionary cocktail party if we were this honest with each other.
That question is quite a challenge for church. When is church more like a cocktail party than a revolution? Is that really what God wants for us in community? In the Gospel passage for Sunday we got the classic “render unto Caesar” bit. We are made in the image of God—we give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but we belong to God and are invited to live from that holy knowledge. This is something that our former bishop Tom Shaw, who died last week so exemplified. His security in his identity as rooted in God made space for others to live from that reality as well. His life was an example of holy living, but also holy dying; he never pretended that everything was “fine.” But even when it wasn’t “fine” in the usual sense, when he was dying and there were no more treatments, it was all still good. He lived in full view of the gift of his 69 years, often remarking how much better it had all turned out than he expected. In his video meditation on the end of his lifeTom talks about his gratitude and, sure, his desire to live for another 25 years, but he talks about his trust in God. One of the reflections left on the page of SSJE, Tom’s monastic community, used the expression of how we can allow fear to “melt into trust.” When do you long for your fear to “melt into trust?” What is that moment like?
On Tuesday I felt this so powerfully as we gathered for our Eucharist after our education. My kids don’t usually come, since with a 25 minute drive home it’s way past their bedtime once we’re finally done, but since it was a vestry night for their dad, they got to come along with me. During the service Adah, just turned five, was totally losing it—no matter how many times I asked her to be still, she was crawling up the pulpit and down the stairs, making faces and laughing during our quiet reflection time. I love seeing other people’s kids enjoying themselves (even, yes, sometimes in “inappropriate” ways in church) but when I have to lead a service, it’s much less endearing when it’s my own kids I want to have under control. So I was a bit distracted and cranky, trying to extend us all some compassion. I am surely thankful for the grace extended us by the other 10 people gathered!
In any case, I had a “fear melting into trust” moment during the Eucharistic prayer. Finally understanding that it was truly not possible for Adah to control herself at 8:00 on a school night, I scooped her up and had her on my hip. I’m used to holding her, of course, but with two arms! When the time in the prayer came for the elevation of the bread and wine, of course, I shifted her over—and I’m strong, but 40lbs is a lot of pounds on one arm. Holding her, though, and holding the bread on the other hand and saying those words “Take, eat, this is my body, given for you,” I had a knock-your-socks-off moment of realization—This. Is. True. And I trusted it—trusted God, and that moment, and my parenting, and my kid and the marvelous and strange journey it is to be a parent and a priest, sometimes at the same time. And, with Tom, I give thanks.