Tonight I wrestled with stage curtains that soar to the tops of the arch of the stage, not exactly a proscenium, but a definite top. It’s very high, forbiddingly high when you’re trying to hang a star and using an extension cord like a lasso. I sewed those curtains along with my friend Leslie. We rolled the fabric out in a huge woosh on the floor in the parish hall and we sort of measured it. We cut the fabric and bundled it into our cars. I don’t know where Leslie sewed her side, but I sewed mine in my bedroom, green fabric shot through with gold spread out across my bed, reaching from corner to corner of my not small bedroom.
I can really only sew things for the stage, so lacking in patience am I for the perfect. I am not particular and so crooked hems and ragged sides can be hidden from the front row, and are good enough for me. I love to watch the whirrr whirr of the needle piercing my fabric over and again, to see things that weren’t attached before become one; one large piece of something that is larger than the dream I had, larger than any other piece of cloth I have ever handled.
Tonight the needle whirred some more, but it whirred in the minds and the hearts of our children as they taught us another lesson; as they embodied what welcome for all looks like.
I know the way that I was raised, the things that I believed were true, and many of those things have been proved true again and again in the last several weeks. How home is always a place you can come to, how there is not anything you can do or say to make your family not want you anymore; how we close ranks for and protect our own – how our sins are covered in the soft blankets of home, be they old fleece blankets with teddy bears printed on them, or crocheted afgans that still smell like grandma’s house. No matter how far any of us has traveled the welcome of the prodigal child has been extended over and again. We’re not perfect, this family I belong to, but we do that one thing really well – we love each other.
My mind turns to a discussion on vestments held at a retreat last week, advent purple or blue, of the one priest whose mother found out he was discerning a call to the priest hood and immediately set to work making liturgical colored chausables and stoles. She sewed those things for him as she had stitched into the very fabric of his soul what sacramental love looks like.
What if our children are like fabric, and the needle that is their understanding of who they are and of their place in this world pierces them over and over again? What if they, and the legacy we leave with them can be viewed like the largest piece of cloth we ever handled, like something that so exceeded the dream we had?
I toed a line in the pageant that I wrote, constantly erring on the side of safe, but really feeling a need to proclaim a message that maybe would be received from the mouths of our children rather than in screaming out in print in an opinion column in the newspaper. Maybe it would seem more believable to us if our children believed first, if they brought home tolerance like they bring home endless reams of paper littered with vocabulary words and math problems; like they bring home flu and lice, things that are insidious, things that somehow get inside of us and that we can’t seem to get rid of.
Some said, as we built the seeds of a Latino community at St. John’s, that they couldn’t make room for those people. And tonight all of the children donned costumes, they said lines they’ve learned and they moved on and off the stage; they high fived each other after and talked excitedly of a skating party a youth leader is planning. Our kids never said there wasn’t room, they never said they didn’t want to listen to someone worship God in another language, they never required that someone address them only in English. Instead they tried to understand the language spoken, and usually succeeded, because it was almost always a language of love. Anyone can understand what a kiss on both cheeks means, the way a face lights up as you come into a room.
Our kids are showing us, in the midst of all of our botched sewing, what it is to be welcoming. They are showing us what it is to live graciously, only with a desire to serve and to love, a desire to be loved. And so we often tell them to be quiet, we decide that their message can’t possibly be worth hearing.
I’ve told you before about our grandma, how she seems to have gone backward. Sharp childhood and adolescent hurts are what she will talk about, her husband is now her dad, but she remembers nursery songs and will sing along gladly. Another grandma played with dolls and suddenly abandoned her cane and walker – and another woman I know has begun to suffer something called sundowners. As the light leaves the sky and the shadows grow she becomes afraid – because I think we arch backward toward childhood, because maybe reality becomes thin again as it was when we were children.
Maybe what happens is that we talk ourselves out of those thin spaces, we discipline our minds to not see what is there so that we will not be overwhelmed and afraid – maybe what happens is that we talk ourselves out of our initial love for people, especially the ones who squatted down and smiled at us, even the ones who didn’t look like us or speak our language. Maybe what we forget is that we belong to each other, so gunked up and screwed over do we become as adults.
I’d like to tell you that the season of advent is a time to un-gunk. It is a time to clean and to polish all of the things in ourselves that are good and welcoming and childlike, it is a time to allow ourselves, inside the daily and oppressive and heartbreaking misery of our world, to hope. A time to light candles against the gathering night and to see in the flicker of that flame a hope mirrored back in our own souls.
We are not Americans before we are anything else, because frankly, America hasn’t been around as long as the flesh from which you were descended, not long enough to wipe out the code of your DNA. We are people first and the whirring of our sewing machines as we sew into our children what life is and what love looks like, that noise reached tonight a level that is terrifying and so loud.
What are we sewing? Are we sewing selfless love, servant-hood, respect for dignity?
Or are we sewing cheap threads that don’t build self worth or love for other because they are based in our own need to have enough, to finally feel like we are enough, like we’ve made it somewhere and now aren’t going to let any of that go? Are we really sewing an US first mentality? Sewing only things that matter when viewed from a distance, but not are not real? What are we afraid of if we aren’t first?
Can we come at this thing with the same idea of abundance that makes us chide toddlers to share their toys?
The tree glows with bulbs that are colored and old fashioned and actually become hot to the touch, and the advent candles are lit, small and defiant lights arranged in a circle against the night. We are camped on the hill outside the promised land, and so divided suddenly over who can come in, over who is worthy of life and liberty and happiness.
I sang to my people tonight, just one verse and a short one, with a voice that shook because I was so scared. I sang that love is our token, love for God and all man, love for plea and gift and sign. I wanted to end on that dramaculous note, I wanted those who came to see their costumed children in a short pageant also to hear that I backed those kids up; and Luis too, that the message was real; we are one family, all are welcome here.
I will leave you here, in the gymnasium of your youth, under a huge rainbow colored parachute that you stretched way out, and then lifted high, and then ran under, shrieking and laughing as it descended upon you. Did you leave anyone out then?
Then why would you do it now?
I love you still.
And thank you to my last minute cookie bakers, fudge bringers, voice overs and singers. You are loved too.
Yea, her sins our God will pardon,
Blotting out each dark misdeed;
All that well deserved His anger
He no more will see or heed.
She hath suffered many a day,
Now her griefs have passed away;
God will change her pining sadness
Into ever-springing gladness.