On Sunday morning, as I was vesting for services at Ascension, I looked through the opaque glass of the window in the clergy vesting room, out toward the columbarium where someone had left a poinsettia and the last beautiful colors of autumn had not yet faded. I could have opened the window for a crisper view, but this is how I see these days. At best, dimly.
Words are not coming easily. This isn’t writer’s block; it goes deeper. I have steeled myself against the devastating outcomes of the election where one person won the majority of the votes and another won the presidency. After the crisis our girl went through in October, we will not be able to bring her home to be with us for the holidays; we are too mindful of the risks of her losing control with us out in the country, with limited resources to respond. I write this sitting at the airport with my flight several hours delayed, and wait to get to hug her and be with her for a couple of days, all the Christmas we’ll have with each other this year. We haven’t figured out what’s causing my dad’s intense pain and we’re gearing up for a round of specialist appointments to try to get some answers. When I go into the ‘buck up and shut up’ mode, the words leave.
Instead, I am doing the work of parish ministry that is far more about listening than saying anything at all. This year, in the middle of considerable busy-ness at church, I have been able to carve time out to go visit the people in our community of faith who have become too frail to attend church. I call my communion kit, ‘meals on wheels’ and some wonderful parishioners have been coming along on these visits. There is a starkness to the rooms where we visit, most of them in nursing homes or assisted living facilities. A stripping down to sturdy furniture capable of holding up from one person to the next, a few things, a picture, a piece of art, a beautiful quilt, that serve as reminders of a life once lived much more expansively and now, more basic, much more quiet.
Yesterday in one such room, a wife and son, two other women, and I sat around a beautiful, withdrawn man who was once at the very center of life at my church. He very seldom talks these days but as his son played “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”, Mark perked up, became more attentive and I saw him mouth “glo-oooooo-ooooo-ooooo-ri-a” when we got to the refrain. When gently prodded, he fell into the cadence and rhythms of the “Our Father”, knew exactly how to hold his hands to receive communion. Like the good priest that he still is, he consumed all the wine in the chalice, because that is what a priest does after everyone else has received and there’s some wine left. And finally, as we sang “Oh Come Emmanuel,” we were graced to hear him sing, frail, reedy, somewhat hesitantly. But one who is easily labeled uncommunicative, sang ‘rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, oh Israel’ with certainty, not having to think, to know the truth of those words.
In the twilight, in what Ronald Reagan described as the sunset of his years, Mark helped me understand Advent. He had spent all his adult years serving in the church, proclaiming, as in the Gospel of Matthew, that “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them”–here. Now. In this very place. And yet. We, who were gathered around him, aware of who he had been and how much has been lost to dementia, could also be forgiven for yearning for a time not yet realized, when all that had grown old will be made new.
Mark had few words and perhaps in this in-between time we call Advent, that is as it should be. I see dimly. I see through the window how someone who loved and lost someone, remembered and celebrated with a beautiful fluff of color. I see how, even after some fierce rains and wind, beautifully colored leaves are still on a tree for a few more days. It is a privilege to see and listen. And wait. Wait for my words. Wait for the Word.