I like to tell the romantic story of how I came to the Episcopal church starting with the moment that I received what was basically an engraved invitation (it was an email) inviting me to come and sing in the choir. And while that was certainly a central plot in the story braid, that Kyrie sang on my knees, that heart cracked wide open, all those tears, how snug my hip fits in the bend of the piano, the right notes traveling up my hip and through my ribs to my throat – but there is a different story too.
I was asked to help out in a kitchen that makes free meals for anyone who wants them, twice a week. I’ve written to you often of the red tent of that kitchen, the way the (mostly) women came together (pro tip, if you search “red tent” on my site you will find these stories).
I’ve told you about the things we learned; that marriage is hard, how every kitchen manager does it differently. That the beautiful faces of girl children can hide their spiney and ugly growing hearts and that it’s all a necessary part of growing up. I’ve told you about how I could almost hear the WHOOSH as the curtain fell, how the light changed and became tinged with scarlet, about the clink of cutlery, the smell of food, the aprons and the hats and the chats cutting salad vegetables. I realized that if anything started anywhere it all started there, in that kitchen with the windows over the washing sinks that look out over the Memorial Garden, the tufts the deer make when they rest there, the strange knowledge that the mortal bodies of people I have known are now intermingled with the flowering shrubs and sandy dirt.
We were talking the other day, the cousins, asking each other who remembered Grandma’s yellow plastic bread basket. This was the one she capped every meal with – no supper was complete without that plastic basket full of plain store bought bread and a tub of margarine to spread on it. No table was set without the goose glassware, or the tall Tupperware cups. My Grandmas were different types of ladies, but they loved to feed people, a passion that has been passed down through my grandmothers, and my mothers, to me.
And so the real story begins not with notes on a yellowed page, not with commands to sing higher or to sing purer vowels, but with a bunch of women in a kitchen, preparing food for people to eat – because of course that felt immediately like home.
One of the primary functions of a priest is to feed people, a different sort of food, sure, but there it is. You get to actually put it in their hands, you get to hold the cup to their mouths while they sip, to make sure they got enough.
Huh. Crazy how stuff works out.
All of this bubbles up for me, I think, because this is a Major Feast. This is EPIPHANY. And today the world kind of exploded.
I was outside, pacing around and looking for my kitty pal (a sweet little cat with a collar who likes me to pet her through the chain link fence that separates our properties) this afternoon and actually wondered to myself if I was overreacting. I wondered if my sudden tears were indicative of a weak mind or constitution rather than an actual crisis. What the hell even is a crisis anymore, I wondered aloud. I decided that in most books if the capital building is stormed that definitely spells C R I S I S and P A N I C. Books have been telling me for a long time how I should act and what I should say, and what to expect next, and so I took that to be proof that my shaky self was not an over reaction.
It’s been a bit galling really, to see social media personas post that this was just like the #BLM protests. That “if they can loot and break things so can we”. I guess I missed it when we crossed over from love your neighbor to an eye for an eye. I know the finer points are being conveniently passed over as I see photo after photo of white men terrorizing our elected leaders compared to the thousands and thousands across the world who finally WOKE THE HELL UP after we watched a police officer kneel on the neck of George Floyd – so focused on the violence and shattering glass and fires are we – you know, the really juicy bits.
Today a friend who is vocally pro-Republican said she is upset because everyone will lump her in with them. She isn’t them. She really isn’t. She loves rules. She loves people. She loves God and she practices justice and mercy, she walks humbly with our God.
Today we sat, wide-eyed, we shouted news back and forth down the short hall. We watched videos and we looked at photos and were overwhelmed and unsurprised all at once. We talked contingency plans, because it’s dangerous at times to have two highly anxious people working so closely together. We made more coffee. We wondered, with all of you, what would come next, when our cities would burn, when our capitals would be stormed (again, because this already happened in our state). I explained the plot of The Handmaid’s Tale. We (I?) ate too many peanut butter cups.
And tonight the sun sank low, the sky lit up again, painted by a Bob Ross-esque God. She went to her Bible study and I went to church. I gazed at the white paraments, I closed my eyes to hear the psalm better. I saw myself in my black and white polka dot bathing suit floating in the deep end of a pool with all of the noise of my family, of the world, happening on the surface. I was submerged. I managed to escape for just a moment.
The cities stopped burning and the children stopped crying in their cages, the doors springing open. The hungry had food and the homeless were granted a reprieve. I felt my arms float up in the strange blue water, saw the bubbles leave my nose as my hair drifted in the current and the sun slanted sideways. I thought to myself that it’s a good thing I’m ace at floating. That I’m learning to be still. That I have new friends that I can take with me even as our lives and situations change. All of the books say this is important. I am pleased to have achieved what I thought was not, for me, achievable.
As I floated in that pool I thought of how I feel so lost, so bereft of you, so in the bracken and thorns. How sometimes I’m not sure who I am. Maybe I’m supposed to sell real estate or clean houses. Who knows? You forget is the problem. I can’t glide over new high notes because I’ve forgotten how. I have to learn again to sight read a hymn I don’t know. I am out of practice.
I can still see our graves up ahead, the ones we made for ourselves when we decided we were going to change who we used to be. The ones we laid down in and rose up from, those pine needle covered mounds in a quiet forest full of moss and stealthily growing things. That sacred place of putting down all of things we thought we were and becoming, so beautifully, who we are really supposed to be.
My friend Cindi took communion tonight for the first time in ten months. TEN MONTHS. She cracked that wafer between her teeth and swallowed it down, strength for the journey, sustenance for the road ahead. She has so much work to do in that kitchen I have had to move away from, a red tent that I hope to find is moveable as I journey outward from that church on the hill.
My own gentile epiphany is in the feeding.
It’s in the gentle meows of my cats early in the mornings, the way my children ask me over and over how long until a dinner they probably will claim not to like, the collaboration with my husband on all things food and cooking – and in the broken body of a Jesus who came to us knowing just who we are. I am convinced that feeding a flock is very important business and I am looking forward to getting to it in the tiny kitchen space behind an altar, with only a paten and a chalice, a few white purificators and the promise of renewed life and strength as we walk away from each other for what, I now understand, in a way that I didn’t before, could be the last time.
And so I’m here, away from you still, unable to know you in the ways that I wish, unable to grieve with you in ways that make the loss not real for me, running toward you nevertheless. The pine needles are slippery, the light is strange and the world tilts again, and still we journey onward.
I love you still. I long to feed you. Hang on.
One of the songs I have been asked to sing is Fairest Lord Jesus. It was for a funeral and the second tune was suggested. I’ve linked it below, and you should probably listen to it because it will tell you my heart tonight, sung in a minor key, not like the one you know, but the words are still true.
A cold and broken hallelujah, as Leonard would have said. Tonight the second tune is the one I can sing.
I have so many words and not enough time.