New Years Day I went to church without being paid. Usually I trade off with another pianist who I will not name because he is famously shy. January 1st wasn’t one of my Sundays, but I had had a quiet, relaxing week after the tumble of Christmas. I thought I would enjoy the luxury of not having to be there early to rehearse the choir, and not even having to be on time. In addition, it was Pajama Sunday.
I stopped for coffee at a drive-in and didn’t think dark thoughts about having to wait for the unorganized person ahead of me to collect his order, and spend two minutes getting his money back in his wallet or whatever he was doing. I didn’t screech out of line and tear up the road like I often do when I imagine I will be too late to set an example for the choir who tends to wander in ten minutes late to run through the anthem.
I got to church in time for the pastor to thank God that he wasn’t the only one in pajamas. When I have pajama week in my music studio, everyone says how much fun it is but they mostly come in street clothes and say, oops they forgot. So I know how it feels to be the only fool in the room. Pastor Dan was wearing dark blue satiny pajamas and moon boots. I wore my red Scottie dog PJs and sat with Kay who was dressed in flannel leopard skins. The three of us pretty much held down the pajama contingency since Jane came ambivalently dressed in what could double as gardening attire.
We sang one of my favorite hymns, “How Beautiful the March of Days,” and had a brief discussion about changing seasons. We were asked to name various things to which there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven, turn, turn, turn.
I said, “There’s a time to stop eating Christmas cookies.”
Kay said, “Who let her in?”
Someone introduced herself as a visitor and glad she had walked in the front door. Kay, who is one of those folks who does a lion’s share of work in a small church, looked across at the new face and murmured “Sign her up.”
That gave me the giggles. I gave them back to Kay and her partner Jerry. The three of us made the row of seats shake.
So I can’t sit with Kay again.
Instead of the sermon, there was a “hymn sing” where we could choose the songs. This is not the time to complain about how much I dislike what UCC has done to hymns. Well, maybe just a little. They’ve taken out the gruesome “blood of the lamb” images which is a good thing. But they’ve tried to disguise the historical fact that Jesus was a man by taking out gender references. So instead of the word he you’ve got the word Christ. Like the word Christ is going to conjure up hermaphroditic images. And try spitting out the word Christ on an eighth note.
In any case, wearing pajamas in church tends to blur more than standards of dress. When we got to “Go Tell it On the Mountain,” I got up and danced with Jane for a verse. Then I danced with the new person who I found out later was a retired pastor. Then I thought, “My god, like you need any more attention after this past month.” So I sat down.
We progressed through the service to Communion. There’s the pastor holding up the Challah (nice touch, I like Challah; and there’s another basket of whole wheat bread in case you don’t want the eggs or sugar, UCC is so inclusive) and ceremoniously breaking the loaf in half.
Kay gets up first. She is going to assist. Jerry takes a photo of Kay assisting.
“Is that for next year’s Christmas card?” I whisper to him.
People begin to file up the center aisle. Jane crosses the room to maneuver Mary Ann’s wheelchair to the front. Jerry puts down his camera and assists Miriam, a fragile older woman. My shy colleague plays a lovely melody I have never heard before. He plays with such sweetness, I almost can’t bear it. The sun breaks through the stained glass window, flooding the room with light and warmth. Jane looks up, her smile is illuminated.
Sitting alone, watching people helping other people, my eyes fill with tears that run down my cheeks. Jane is now crying, too. I hear a sniff and look behind me to see Tom and Thea both wiping their eyes. Sam tears up and holds out his hand to invite me into line. It might have been a Saturday Night Live sketch which is certainly one way to go when you can’t bear the intensity.
I bore it. I loved it. I was happy to be included in this sunlit group that welcomed and helped each other up the aisle to that good-looking loaf of Challah. I always liked that line, “Let us keep the feast.” The original idea was to keep the feast with unleavened bread which was what, purer than yeasted bread? Please don’t any exegetes kill the magic. If you’ve read many of my blogs, you’ll know I don’t care. I feel happy to know I started the new year with love, and as to all the old leavened crud squatting where it found a roof, I am learning to make friends with what I can’t let go of.