The church kitchen was busy, bright and warm, with three cheerful ladies putting together platters of crustless sandwich quarters — the inimitable, the unutterably delicious Church Lady Sandwiches — for the weekend ACW bazaar. They said hello in passing as I moved through, iPad in hand, to the quiet church beyond the parish hall.
There all was still except for the overhead fans. I didn’t turn on any lights. I settled down in a forward pew, opened the iPad and summoned up the day’s appointed scriptures — the Propers for All Saints’ Day — and opened up the playlist for the music I had, with some difficulty, managed to sync just an hour ago.
I listened to the lovely anthem “O Taste and See” while I read the commendation from Wisdom about the souls of the faithful: they have been tried and purified, and their going from us is no longer a tragedy but a triumph. The spark of their faith runs through us like fire through long dry grass. That passage was one I first encountered through grace conveyed by one of the saints on my own personal list, a much-beloved wise and diffident man who now rests with God and who would be horrified to be called anyone’s saint. I called him Mudge, because he claimed to be (and sometimes was) a curmudgeon.
As I listened, reading Wisdom and thinking of Mudge, I almost felt as though I’d been struggling for a long, long time, an unendurably long time, in cold lake water, all mucky on the bottom, with long, strong, half-rotten vines trailing through it, clinging to my aching legs. Periodically one of the galleys of the Fundamentalists, religious or anti, would scull past, banging tin pots and screaming righteously into the fog, and usually giving me a quick clip upside the head without noticing. They never watch where they’re going. But mostly I just tried to keep my head above water, all on my self-isolating lonesome. Because isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be done?
Another soul struggling alongside me had, the day before, slipped a marvellous neologism into a moment of conversational confusion: the phrase “defaults of character” (a cross between “character faults” and “defects of character”). “Defaults of character” — those were the vines against which I’d struggled so long: the long-problematic settings with which I’d been programmed during a scrambled early life and that I’d since taken completely for granted. Old ways of coping, old and crippling memes.
Back to the cool dusty quiet and my iPad. Psalm 24 and “Ye watchers and ye holy ones.” Both about being God’s own — not in the possessive sense, but in the sense of recognition and renewal: not an owner’s “you’re *mine* but a suitor’s “it would please my heart to call you mine, if you wish to be.” I am God’s critter, if I will have it so. On to Revelations, a new heaven and a new earth in which all tears are wiped away and memes are sorted through, most discarded, the good ones refurbished. If I so desire — and I do so desire — God will clear away the strangling vines in which I am entangled.
These words of All Saints propers told me of God’s power to reset the defaults, if I’d turn them over to God. It’s my decision to trust, or not to trust, in the power of love to make all things new. That choice is about staying in the water or choosing to get into the boat.
In my spirit’s eye, as I struggled in the murk, Mudge was out in his skiff, inarticulate in love but ever competent with a boat, and now — in this reading and this music — it was as though he had reached a hand overboard to pull me up to safety. And I took his hand and the two of us heaved me roughly over the gunwales and into the skiff’s bottom among balers and ropes and bait buckets and his old rubber boots, and we laughed in joy and sheer relief. Or so it seemed in the quiet church.
I read of Lazarus called forth from death, even after he’d begun to reek of decay, and I listened to the Miserable Offenders singing of the wide kindness of God’s mercy, and I felt something in me shift and settle in a slightly altered way.
And now it seemed that we were rowing toward another shore, where folk were out in joy splashing in the water, having picnics, tossing peanuts to the squirrels and the ducks, while the lamb explored the lion’s ear with its tender inquisitive lips. Our beloved Matt the Muttster was holding forth on the true nature of barbeque to Richard Hooker and J.S. Bach. The Wolfmama listened intently to Niebuhr and Dr King talking beisboll and the Anglo-Catholics, led by Auden and two bishops of Maine, were swinging 360s, censing Mahalia she led the saints a-marchin in, and their singing shook the heavens.
Yes, I thought. This is for real.
And then, just to set the seal on things, there came rolling into my tiny earbuds that hymnodic dreadnought, the greatest of hymns by that irreligious Englishman Ralph Vaughan Williams, with its huge stompin’ bass line rolling up my doubt like a charge of heavy cavalry and behind it the clear, calm, utter certainty that all will indeed be well and all manner of things shall be well:
“From earth’s wide shores, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Mudge. And thanks for the hand up.
in memory of Andrew Auld, 1947-2008.
Reposted with permission from Scrambling Towards Zion
Molly Wolf plays hackysack with theology in Gananoque, Ontario, among the Thousand Islands. She lives with her resident offspring Ross and with Magnificat (aka Maggie), a sizable calico with tortitude, whose personality fits her name. She (Molly, not the cat) is the author of four collections of applied meditation and Scrambling towards Zion: A weekly essay on finding Godstuff in real life.