In unusual fashion, the house is a disaster area and nobody is really ready for church. Some children took their pre Sunday shower, but nobody picked out anything of wear, and I think there’s a high chance that no single shoe will be able to be discovered without sheer panic in a few minutes when I wake everybody up.
That’s what I do on Sunday morning. At 7am I turn on NPR’s With Heart and Voice to see if we will be eased beaufully into the day, or jarred with some avant guard sacred coral piece that could only be understood by God at that hour. The children try to remember what they said they were going to put on, and complain about their hair, and shoes, and having to wear the thing that they like the least. After a while they all go drape themselves around the kitchen, waiting for me to tell them what to do next–get the church milk, find the keys, help find a shoe, let the dogs out, get in the car, be quiet, don’t wake up the neighbors. I wander in later in a panic to make tea in a thermos and join the waiting, because Matt won’t get up out of his chair and come flying down the stairs until it’s almost a guarantee that we’ll be late for the eight o’clock. I do not understand how you can get up out of bed at 3 in the morning and then still almost be late every single week for the first service. But many things in life are a mystery to me.
We careen down the road, saying unwrite-able things to the lights that, because we are late, turn red just as we arrive. We finally pull up in a parking spot and Matt tosses the keys in my lap and runs to find his vestment while I gather the piles of stuff I’ve brought with me, mostly objects that wander to my house from the church. The children screech at each other about who’s turn it is to get out of the car first and who has to shut the door. I pause to tell them to be quiet and ‘stop it, just get out, if you’re pushing you’re wrong.’
We all go banging into the parish hall where I dump all my stuff in a heap and desperately begin making coffee in the big strange machine that’s been carefully set up in the Shepherd’s Bowl Cupboard. I have exactly ten minutes to make one urn of coffee and set out all the necessary items that coffee drinkers require–cups, milk, creamer, several kinds of real and fake sugar, a little basket to assuage your spiritual guilt by putting in fifty cents while you shock yourself into consciousness with the church’s powerful special brew. There’s also a vat of basically hot water and some old tea bags for the person who doesn’t want coffee and who apparently doesn’t mind mediocrity. I arrange it all and then gather my thermos and dark chocolate and creep into the back of the church to hear the sermon the first time.
I incline back in the pew and listen, uninterrupted, my feet up on the kneeler. When the sermon is over I creep back out and go back to making coffee. It’s the single moment I sit without having to get up for some reason or other, for the whole morning. Back in the coffee cupboard I have to really buckle down and fill all the urns. The machine that produces the coffee is rather tall, and so I climb up and down on a stool, pouring water in the top over the dark, rich grounds and watching to make sure coffee actually comes out into the urn. I do that for what seems like eternity, but is probably only half an hour, as children drift in and out and eventually the morning people arrive, early, for class. They are cheerful and chatty. Opposite from the stragglers in who come when it’s half over and dare you, by gaze and posture, to say good morning. I’m on their side. Just because I’m here making all this coffee doesn’t mean I’m in love with rosy fingered dawn. On the contrary, I wish she would disappear back into the night.
After the class I gather all my stuff, again, and rush up to the sacristy to see if any children have remembered it’s their turn to acolyte. I help them negotiate trades and vestments and sooth the wounded feelings of the child that has to carry a candle two weeks in a row. ‘I give you my word,’ I say, ‘you will not have to do this again next week. Please just do it today?’ I plead, cajole, and finally send them off to the back of the church. Then I either collapse in a pew, or with the choir, or line up with everybody else to help on the altar. When the cold air is blowing full blast, I go stand on the step outside and try to warm myself in the sun, unless it’s snowing, in which case, I huddle up against a heater. But then the organ hits its first note and we all march in or stand up to sing and pray and listen, to eventually traipse down the long aisle for a taste of bread, a sip of wine. If you’ve ever been to church, you probably know what I’m talking about.
When the last note sounds I am already standing at the back with a list, trying to catch people I need to talk to before they go on with their lives. I always have at least ten questions I wanted to ask, of somebody or other. I do laps through the church trying to find the people I wanted to talk to. Along the way I stop and eat all the cauliflower out of the vegetable try, and every time I see a child I tell them, ‘we’re about to leave.’ Two hours later we finally do, everybody bashing their way back into the car and passing along the news of the morning. Matt is not with us, he’s gotten a ride with someone else and gone home as soon as the line after church is over. We spill out of the car and into the house and there he is in the kitchen, stirring up something delicious, a glass of wine sitting on the counter waiting for me to let fall all my stuff, remove my shoes, pick up my dog and sit down.
And that’s it, an ordinary Sunday morning. Who would imagine that heaven would come down to earth at such a time, and fill the hearts and minds of the faithful with strength, forgiveness, hope, and endurance? I never would. But it happens over and over, and has for ages, and will for a few more, probably. And now, let me see, what shall I wear?