“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” John Donne.
The door creaks open and in they come, an eclectic assortment of sympathetic, lovely souls. Mid-week tired, slow, winter-cold or summer-hot, they shuffle over our threshold and sit on straight-backed chairs, not enough overstuffing for all of these. My heart leaps up as they begin to settle.
I slow to look, quiet to hear, and sit in wonder.
My, what an odd lot we are.
A bunch of broken scarecrows scratching around, finding seats, cozying up on the couch, too many folk, too little couch. Doing what people do. Getting coffee, fetching water, petting the dog, eating one of those butterscotch cookies Allen bakes every week for this Bible study. On the lookout for a little more peace and a little more grace, we come to open the Book, to seek.
What great importance there is in crossing thresholds, what hopeful vulnerability dwells there. A threshold is a weighty place, a place to remove a mask if we can remember to try, to lay aside the face we’ve prepared “to meet the faces that [we] meet,” as J. Alfred Prufrock puts it. He never could accomplish it ~ I want to try.
Folk ease in and smile their gentle smiles, and I smile mine. People like me, afraid, but with a great longing to be known, a deep desire to be forgiven.
My, what a peculiar lot we are.
The bringer of cookies has lost his brother. He bakes as he heals, it seems, slow and steady. He crosses this threshold with hands full and crosses back with heart full, it’s a pretty good trade-off, week after week. There’s hope in it.
One friend is in constant pain in her back, one has arthritis in her knees and can’t play tennis any more.
One of us has lost her voice and the doctors can’t seem to figure out why. She goes back to doctors to see what’s to be done.
This friend has never had children. The other week our regular church nursery worker couldn’t come at the last minute, and I was looking for quick help and ran right into her in the hallway. I could use your help (me). I’d do anything for you (her). Could you watch the littlest ones today? (me) Long pause. I never had kids, you know (her). Yet she did it anyway, for love, and the littlest ones ran and clung to her, smiled and loved her, kissed her with the wettest of sticky-kisses, as if to say Where have you been? We’ve been waiting for you. Tonight she speaks of this newfound delight with a happy lilt and gives a soft praise for a most unexpected gift, a new joy, unforeseen. The love of children.
And all she did was say yes.
Tonight a friend is filled with praise, celebrating 11 years of sobriety. We cheer and clap hands and pound his back and eat more cookies.
My, what a fortuitous, fluky lot we are. A safe place, a kind community of seeking souls. Come as you are.
What a privilege to count myself among them, this curious, sacred company. A peculiar people, this sweet community of broken folk. All of us tip-toeing carefully through our pain, hand hard on the shoulder of another who has felt similar stings, one who now stands alongside.
It’s a curiously choreographed dance, a love-filled frenzied ballet en pointe, a delicate search for balance. In a pas de trois, the dancers move together in symmetry through much of the dance, before attempting a variation alone, a solo. The pas de trois concludes with a coda, a finale usually set to music of a quick tempo in which the dancers bring the piece to a spectacular finish.
A spectacular finish. Who could hope for more?
This is what we do.
We come together on Wednesday evenings to learn to move with a bit more ease, a bit more symmetry, to help each another prepare for the certain solos that come. Sometimes our collective movement bends toward dignity, elegance even, but mostly we creep and limp and wave hopeful hands at joy and joy and joy-to-come.
A collective slouch toward grace ~ the secret of a community of the broken.
We are here to help each other toward a more spectacular finish. And in that pursuit, there are flashes of joy here tonight, splashes of love, dancing above the cookies.
One of us has been sick, stumbling and falling, and hasn’t been here for a while, but tonight she comes, holding tight to an arm as she threshold-crosses. She settles snugly in the brown leather chair by the fireplace and I bring the coffee hot ~ don’t get up, please don’t fall again. She is a quiet, rarely speaking, ever listening, coffee sipping.
We are here. So we begin.
Our sacred few mid-week moments commence with words of praise, thanksgiving, efforts at gratitude for the things in our lives, even the hard things. Beauty in the spoken word, encourage the brethren. Who has something she is grateful for, something that will encourage us as we begin? Where have you seen God at work in these days? A hard question for broken folk.
Tonight it is quiet. No words yet, just a settling in, breaths deep. Rough week.
The coffee-drinker in the leather chair moves, scoots forward. She has been so ill and gone from us so long. Quietest of us, hard to hear, we are unaccustomed to her voice. She opens her mouth to try to offer words of praise, to speak. But instead, this night, she surprises us, surprises herself.
She begins to sing.
Praise God from Whom all blessings flow…
Her scratchy, throaty voice fills, lifts up to the ceiling beams, so unexpected to us and to her, elegant, ethereal. A sudden song of stunning praise. Unrehearsed.
Like hearing a miracle.
Praise Him all creatures here below…
One by one, we reverently join her song, we creatures here below, trying to praise Him in this astonishing moment. Doing our best, throwing tattered rags of praise at holy feet.
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host…
Are they singing with us, even now, the heavenly hosts? Shhhhhh. Do I actually hear their heaven-voices echoing in my den? Are the birds and trees joining in? I think maybe they are.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Amen and amen.
There are as many different pitches as there are singers in this road-weary choir, high notes too high, low notes too low. Yet voices and tears mingle here and we hear a fresh harmony, joining the ancient song of Moses and David and Deborah ~ “The LORD is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation.”
“I’ve never done anything like that before,” the singer marvels as we wipe tears. Isn’t that what a miracle is, something inexplicable, never done before?
The wondrous, humble miracle of praise, a sacrifice. I can hear notes still ringing in the high rafters of my den, the birds warbling forward the tune this morning as I write.
Can you hear it? Quiet enough to hear the miracle?
The miraculous sacrifice of praise is earth’s first song.
The stolid diaries of early Arctic explorers are rich with Victorian solemnity. Swedish explorer Salomon Andree, dying of starvation on an Arctic island, confides in his journal, “Our provisions must soon and richly be supplemented, if we are to have any prospect of being able to hold on for a time.”
Of course. We live on Arctic ice floes, drifting, hard-stuck in the ice, under-provisioned. If we have any hope of being able to hold on, we must supplement our stock and store, bring in fresh supplies, replenish and refill with regularity.
There has never been a successful solo Arctic explorer. No man is an island.
Our mid-week hour is short ~ too soon comes the time to dance back over the threshold into the world. These dancers and singers are slow departers, unhurried leavers. Can’t we just stay here? This togetherness works for us, and I am always melancholy to dim the last lights.
The beauty of the pas de trois is that it is danced together, each helping the other to achieve greatness, a spectacular finish.
Together in our little community, we dance ~ our broken, painful, crooked, beautiful, scarecrow ballet, and God says It is good.
Here, I becomes we. Us.
Let us go forth in joy, to love and serve the Lord. Let us dance.