Humming in the Crypt

Humming in the Crypt May 3, 2018


My most annoying habit is that I hum when I’m sad.

I am a terribly awkward person with many far worse habits, more than I could name, but my humming is the one that exasperates me.

It happened again the other night.

Neighborhood friends of Rose’s had asked us to go to “church” with them that evening. They didn’t say anything about which church. I mistakenly inferred that they meant the weird little non-denominational church a few blocks away– the one that welcomes Christians of any stripe to a Praise and Worship session, one weeknight per week. Rosie was excited when she heard there’d be coloring and games for children there. I was just glad for someone to pray with– it’s very lonely here, and I have a personal rule that I’ll pray with anyone who will pray with me, as long as they don’t try to make me profess something I don’t believe. We walked to our friend’s house that evening to catch a ride with them.

That’s how we ended up going to a strange church– one I’d walked past many times, but never been inside.

The minute I walked in the door, I felt sad.

We didn’t go into the main church; we went straight to the basement, what I would call the crypt if it were a Catholic church. There was a stage down there, and a kitchen to the left.  Pictures of chickens were hung all over the walls– hand-colored drawings of crowing roosters, hung at eye level where you’d expect to find the Way of the Cross in a Latin church or icons in an Eastern one. Some were done in crayon, some in pencil; some were embellished with Dollar Tree stickers. I suppose they’d been colored by the Sunday School children, if this church had Sunday School. Each drawing was captioned with an exportation not to deny the Lord like Peter. There was nothing out-of-the-ordinary at all here, nothing to make me upset, except that it was ugly.

I caught myself humming.

The people in charge sat the gaggle of badly-behaved children who’d come in with us at tables. They offered us fruit punch and passed around plates each containing cheese, crackers and a single miniature doughnut.

There are times when I’m tired of going into detail about my allergies, and this was one of them. I politely shook my head. I politely shook my head three or four times, because that’s how many times one of the churchgoers exhorted me that there was plenty of food and I ought to grab a plate.

We did not sing.

A man I assumed was the pastor stood at the front– he didn’t take the stage, but stood beneath it and muttered an improvised prayer to the Lord to make us grateful for the “meal” we were about to receive, Amen. I started to make the sign of the cross, but a nervous feeling stopped me. The children ate and squabbled over their crackers. Rose at the pieces of cheese that hadn’t touched anything else. I politely rebuffed more attempts to get me to eat gluten.

I caught myself humming again.

I tried to figure out what was making me so sad. This was a perfectly run-of-the-mill Protestant church, with tacky arts and crafts on the walls and friendly people who’d prepared a snack. They were doing a work of mercy– many of the children around here are so poor they need all the free snacks the churches can provide. There wasn’t anything amiss here. It was just a church. But I felt horrible– homesick, lonely, nervous. Afraid of being caught doing something wrong, though I couldn’t say what I was doing wrong.

I pretended to have to go to the bathroom, hoping the walk would calm my unease.

I leaned on my cane and walked past those drawings of chickens.

I hummed a little more loudly, once I got out of earshot of the squabbling children. The song stuck in my head was to the tune of “Sing of Mary,” but it wasn’t “Sing of Mary.” It was an American hymn, sung at the tent revivals a hundred years ago.

“Savior, visit this plantation. 

Grant us, Lord, our gracious Rain. 

For we’ve come to desolation 

unless Thou return again. 

Lord, revive us, Lord, revive us! 

All our help must come from Thee! 

Lord, revive us, Lord, revive us! 

All our help must come from Thee!” 

The pastor and his assistants divided the children by age and sent them to separate parts of the crypt. I went along with Rose to the younger group.

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