Sunday, December 26, 2010

The second day of Christmas: we're going to need salt


The sky is gray and heavy, full with the prediction of snow. I’m late as I get to church having had to stop at a copy shop to copy the bulletin. At the steps, I’m greeted by George, back again. “George,it’s cold,”I say, “ Not too cold yet this morning,” he replies. He pauses, then, “Hey, they were looking for you. Philip and that lady. The one with short red hair and tight spandex, you’re supposed to open up.” “I’m here now,” I say.

I go in and open the doors. Someone has left a box of Starbuck’s breakfasts on the steps. Who knows how long ago. I ask George about them “They’ve all got eggs,” he says, “I don’t eat eggs.” So I throw them out. I’m cold. And with the threat of snow, I don’t expect too much. Philip arrives. I tell him I need some coffee and will be right back and so I head to Barney’s for a cup. One of the server asks how the church is going. I recognize him as an actor."29th Street Rep, " i say. He reminds me of his friendship with Chuck Willey, a fellow 29th Street rep founder and church member. "It's a never ending 15 year renovation project, " says Gary. When I get back Phillip says, “Ana is here with Jamie and Ashley. They’re inside.”

We all come in. Ana says she was afraid no one else would show up. I decide to begin with casual conversation. Soon Arcadia has arrived. The Andre, looking at Philip and saying “this place’s not big enough for the both of us, brother,” and laughing. I tell them my friend Melissa in Rochester has invited her congregation to show up in their pajamas. I actually did that once in Oakdale, outside of Pittsburgh. On Christmas morning Sunday. We had hot chocolate and cookies and sang carols. That’s harder to pull off on the Upper Westside of Manhattan.

We talk about our Christmases. The Puerto Rican traditions of pasteles and arroz con gandules. And of course, coquitos. A late night visit from Santa. Nicaraguans and pernil and gallino relleno. We share our stories.

I ask for a favorite carol. Ashley asks for “Silent Night.” Then we sing “Good Christian Friends Rejoice” in English and Spanish. Ashley and Jamie come up to light our candles. Arcadia reads Isaiah in Spanish and I read the gospel story. The story of the Holy Innocents. When we talk about Herod, being an ethnarch, of course someone mentions Karzai.How imperial powers always install people to rule on their behalf. How illegitimate power is always threatened by that which is legitimate. How the innocent suffer always, especially children. And how you can't talk about God made flesh unless you allow for that part of the story. For God to be present in human form is to be ready to experience that, be present in that reality. We choose to be in the cold, others do not have that choice. We are called to be present.

I wanted to give Philip the Sunday off but he’s moved to stand up and sing, “Jesus the Light of the World” as we take up the offering. It’s easy to join in. For our doxology, Philip leads us into “We are standing on Holy Ground,” to bless our space.

As we all gather together in a circle, I tell them what Nate had said on Christmas Eve. And that I embrace and celebrate our circle on this morning, this 100th West-Park Christmas, as is. We conclude with “Joy to the World,” and after the benediction, “Halle,halle,halle, hallelujah.”

Ana has brought a thermos of Puerto Rican coffee, cafe con leche, hot, milky, sweet and rich. It steams as she pours out cups full.

We lock up. Go out together. I wish George well. Across the street, there is no sign of Francois and Max and Pascal. No one would ever know that they had ever been there. I pick up pastrami salmon and nova to take home for breakfast. As I leave Barney’s, snow has begun to fall. I see Deacon James heading my way. “We’re going to need salt,” he says, “We’re going to need salt.”

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