Monday, December 31, 2012

The sixth day of Christmas:Holy Family Sunday

Anna and puppy are there to greet me when I arrive.Turns out she had dropped the candles into Teddy’s vela de memoria, hoping to extend its time awhile. I explain the tradition, that it's not so much keeping him around as it is impeding his journey. And it's important to let him go. Letting go is important. And once we have let go, then we can experience the good part of his spirit that stays with us. 
I go out and sweep the steps myself. Stray papers and butts, an empty Coors can...
Teddy’s candle burns out just before the service begins. 
More new visitors from the neighborhood have come today. I do a little architectural/social history introduction, explain a little about where we now are. 
I talk a little bit about how especially when the commercial world begins its Christmas season right after Halloween, it’s important for us in the church to live out all twelve days of Christmas.  Today is the sixth day of Christmas,  Holy Family Sunday. A day that in the lectionary only rolls around every three years. 
The lectionary is playing time games with us again. We go from Jesus the infant last Tuesday to Jesus the child, then next Sunday, we’ll be  back to the infant again, and then Jesus the adult one week later.  This is the only childhood story we have of Jesus in the Bible as we know it.
This happens when Jesus is twelve years old. We could explore the number 12....

The Bible is full of this number: Ishmael’s 12 sons who become princes; Jacob’s 12 sons who become the namesakes of tribes; 12-year-old Jesus; the 12 apostles; the hemorrhaging woman who suffered for 12 years; 12 baskets of leftover fish; and the 12 symbols of Revelation, including the woman robed with the sun and adorned with a crown of 12 stars. We live 12-hour days and 12-hour nights over the course of 12 months each year. And, of course, we sing these days of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”
In the Jewish tradition, the twelfth year is the last year before the  bar mitzvah, when a boy is old enough to take responsibility for his own relationship to the Torah, its commandments. is natural that he would be studying at age 12. 

The story centers around the wordplay between Jesus and Mary when his parents discover him in the temple. Mary says, How could you do this to your father (pater) and me? Jesus responds, Don't you know I must be in my father's (pater) house? Jesus is making clear that his heavenly bonds transcend even the most intimate earthly relations. 
There are a lot of questions. Why did it take three days for his parents to notice Jesus was missing?  I can’t imagine that. Mary speaks of she and Joseph as your parents. After that amazing birth, had she forgotten the visitation of the angel? Had a sense of normalcy set in? 

The Jesus’ answer. It must  have been very  painful for Joseph....(and after this story, he is never heard from again...)

That phrase, in my father’s house...I spent some time meditating  on that... where does it take you? It takes me to the house I grew up in... who my father was...the values he had ..while I’m sure this can be ambivalent for some, downright  painful for others...where does it take you?

Hope recalls that she grew up in a manse. Always clear that it was the church’s house. not hers. But the church,why that was her house. The manse  had no carpets. The church did. She could run in her braces and be safe, even if she fell. Don, too thinks of safety. And John R, a sense of mission. 

In my father’s house can also be translated about my father’s my father’s presence...

For all of us, there may have been times when we have done what our parents did not want us to do out of honor and respect for who they are, what they had taught,  when I registered as a conscientious objector  during the Vietnam war...or like people I met who had  left home to come to occupy....what else do you think of?

Ultimately, it’s about family.  We have our birth families and our families of choice. So many I met in Occupy said they had found a family. That’s what we want our church, our community to be, family. You can be spiritual all by yourself, but we need community to truly be faithful. We seek it. We desire it. We seek to create it here. 

And in this Christmas season, that is where we find the incarnation, not just in ourselves as individuals, but as community, family. And that is our Holy Family today. 

We finish our service. Sing our amens. Then halle, halle, hallelujah. And as Jamie enters, late, we turn and sing hallelujah to let her know we’re happy she’s here.

We clean up. Jeremy has arrived and Sanctuary NYC not far behind him. And Daniel and I are off to be with our family. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The fifth day of Christmas: unanswered questions

I’m getting the church ready for Sunday. By myself. Martin comes in to talk, we’re both still anxiously awaiting a decision. In the meantime, strange things are happening. There appear to be clothing or something on a window ledge, but not one with an open window. High up. A neighbor across the street complaining about clothing or garbage strewn on the scaffolding. As we look outside, large flake snow is falling.  We go up to the nurse’s room, now the storage room for Sandy relief, and the door appears to have been jimmied. Can’t tell if any Sandy relief items have gone missing. What is going on? (Damn, Teddy...sorry, this is going to go on for awhile....) 
Teddy’s candle continues to burn.
I finish the Sunday service. Go down to the Bangladeshi copy shop to get the bulletins copied.Another customer enters. The proprietor says, The man who was pushed in front of the 7 train, he was my friend....
The customer says, the Korean guy?
The proprietor shakes his head. 
No, another one, I say. Second one this month. Yesterday. (Sunando Sen ) 
He was my friend. I started a second shop, up town. I am Muslim, he was Hindu from India. We talked religion. He was a good man...he was my friend....
I pay my bill, look at him and say, I’m very sorry for your loss. The proprietor nods. 
I finish preparing the church. Put the bulletins out. Take a look out the front door and see an arcing stream heading from the steps to the street. I yell what are you doing? Then turn to my right and see the Mexican man and I lose it, just lose it. 
The Mexican man looks up at me.
The man looks up, No mas, no mas, he says, like Duran in the second Leonard fight. 
He looks up at me, shaken. Starts gathering his things. OK, me voy, voy....
And I feel shaken. Martin comes out to see what the commotion is. 
I just came off on a guy in perfect Spanish, I say. And tell him the story. 
Martin wants to know how churches deal with people on the steps. I tell him that some like SPSA have simply posted No trespassing signs. They decided to do that after someone started a fire on their steps. BJ has too. I’ve resisted. If you check out the Baptist church up the street, Holy Name on 96th, there are folks there every night. Besides, we try and create relationships. And have had successes. Saved lives. Look, Martin, I came off on the guy. Stress. Tension.The waiting. Teddy. The guy in the subway. (I tell him about Sunando Sen.) But I can’t have guys pissing on the church. 
Martin echoes my thoughts. Dammit, Teddy. Bob, what are we gonna do?
And I shake my head. Breathe. Exhale. This snow, too, has changed to rain. Washing the steps. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The fourth day of Christmas: Containing two fur coats and three dogs

Looks like Project Reachout has come through. The steps are empty. 
Elle is standing at the bus stop talking to a friend. She’s wearing a fur coat and hat. I greet her. And she says, Bonne annee, that’s French for Happy New Year. 
Je sais, et vous aussi, I respond. As her friend leaves, I tell her she’s looking good, furs and all.
Ah, thank you, she says. My $25 mink coat. You know, looking good is not expensive. People don’t know. Putting yourself together just takes time. I’ve been wanting to teach classes on how to do it. Especially seniors. And cancer patients.  
I tell her sounds like a good idea. 
I used to be a designer, you know.
Yes, I remember. Still shows.
We turn the corner, heading towards her home.  With my COPD, the’s almost too much. But I have  to get out and keep going, well, so I can keep going.
And looking good is part of feeling good, I say. And she nods. She asks how it’s going. And I tell her. She nods again, wishes us well. And I say, Happy New year, Elle, may it be a good one
Inside a couple has come to plan their wedding. Both nearing 40. One Dutch and raised Presbyterian, the other Catholic. Old enough to know hat they’re doing. Including their dogs in the wedding ceremony. Looks like a fit.
I’m trying to get out and visit my friend Jack when Anna comes in with puppy.  She sits, we talk. As always filled with good ideas, information and care for the church. Deeper than anything  else, the strength of her heart is always there.
The mumbling man comes in, telling me he has  to ask for one more time and that will be it. Subway fare. Metro card.  I open my wallet, pull out my pockets to show him I’ve got none. I tell them I’ve got to go. And I say to him that I saw him in a fur coat the other day. He shrugs his big shoulders, Got to stay warm....
RL and Poet Tim are in for a day’s work. RL managed to recycle some wood from the Quebecois Christmas tree guys after they left. One step closer to shelves to display guitars. And the kitchen’s tea pot will son be put to use. 
When I get back from visiting Jack, Dan comes by to pick me up. We’e considering a movie. He stops in to see the dancers rehearsing, say Hi to Martin. Look at the studio he helped build last summer. 
I notice that Teddy’s candle has gone out. Again. Someone unsatisfied tried to extend its life by placing smaller candles inside, but they only drowned the wick. There’s a parable in there somewhere.  So I scrape it out, light it again. It needs to burn out to the end. I’m superstitious about these things. The candles are supposed to burn a soul’s journey long. Prematurely blow out the candle, you interrupt the journey. 
I ask Dan to help me lock up the door.  Notice something there. The Mexican man is putting his things down in front of the door. Hey, mi hermano, por favor. No se ponga sus cosas en frente este puerta. Usamos esta puerta todo el tiempo. 
Dan locks the door, asks me what I said. Get your stuff out from in front of the door, I tell him. Time to lock up and go....

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Third day of Christmas: Needing to find a way to keep the chaos at bay...

Kara is sitting in a lotus position on the floor. As I walk in, she gets up, walks over. O Pastor, oooh, I think I upset Mr. Martinez. The door was open. I watched them rehearsing. They were so fantastic. And that one man dancer....When he was finished I leaped up and yelled hot diggity dog I think I’m in love! and Mr. Martinez just said Out! Out! You have to get out! I need to tell him I was a professional dancer. An accompanist for dance lessons....really....I hope I didn’t upset him....
I can see she’s been writing a note. She wants to give it to me to give it to him. I tell her Mariola’s in the office. To give it to her. And to talk to her about lessons, too.
I check outside. George is still there. OK, this is concerning me. And someone else’s stuff is blocking our main door. I begin to get anxious about losing control. Damn it, Teddy.  I need an easy strong voice to keep order. Damn it. 
I ask George about the other stuff. Mexican guy, he’ll be back. You don’t know him? he asks with a raised eyebrow. 
Well, he’s blocking the door. If his stuff is still here tomorrow morning, it’s getting thrown out.  George, what’s your plan?
It’s been four days. What’s up?
I done already told you. You don’t know? Told you I got to get back in practice. Told you I got to be ready. It’s comin. Fiscalmotherfuckincliff. We all goin over. Got to be ready.
That’s why he comes here. Apocalypse training. But he’s got too much stuff with him this time. I call Project Reachout. Yes, I know his case is closed. Look, it’s been four days OK? They agree to come by and talk with him. And also check for the other person. 
When I comeback later, Kara is gone, George is still here. The Noche dancers are finishing for the day and heading home. I hope Martin can help me figure out a way to keep the chaos at bay. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The second day of Christmas: Boxing Day. Feast of Stephen. Good King Wenceslas.


The house is empty except for Christopher. Jay gone for the holidays. Stephen home for the holidays. Martin has come up for a set of jobs for Christopher to do to keep him busy. I come to see Martin, hoping that there is word on a possible deal. I’m ready to do whatever’s needed.  But we’ll have to wait. Anxiety rises as midnight approaches. Nobody really expected Mayan apocalypse to land on 12/21. After all, the Mayan elders had come to Sanctuary NYC and told them it was not the end, just the beginning of a new, more enlightened, connected cycle. The solstice is passed. The days are already getting longer. But we need a solution by the end of the year.

RL wants me to meet him at his office. And Poet Tim as well. So I head to the Gate. The agenda is to get the forms in order so that we might get eligibility for Materials for the Arts, a warehouse exchange program in New York City that makes all kinds of material resources available for non-profit arts groups. Many of the theatre groups, for example, that have used West- Park, like Woodshed, found major portions of their sets and props at Material. Makes sense. And there are some volunteers that can help make it happen. 

Mandola Joe
Outside, the weather is frightful. Cold, wet snow falling, winds picking up. The scaffolding company sent us an email recommending that we batten down the hatches, hurricane style. I’m alone. Not going to happen. As the snow picks up in intensity, Mandola Joe walks in looking like a gnomic northern european icon of St.Nicholas just in from the arctic, beard filled with snow. 

It’s Boxing Day. Feast of Stephen. Good King Wenceslas. I admire that when RL calls Harvey and says the weather outside is frightful, she responds, but inside is so delightful. And he smiles. I admire. And maybe envy a bit. He needs to head out before it gets heavier. And weather aside, even traditionally stoic RL offers that it has  been an exceptionally cruel month. Word. But not without its redeeming moments for me. Purisima. Carolling on the steps. The impromptu Child’s Christmas...

Tim and RL head out into the winter.

I follow shortly.

At the church, I get a call from my old OWS security chief Rafael. Tells me to check out his youtube video. There he is on the deck of a sun drenched beach house overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Wearing a guayavera and sun glasses. New security gig.  This is good. 

Outside on the steps, George is bent over. I prod him until he wakes. You OK? 
He harrumphs. Why you ask?
Need to know’s why, OK?

All too soon this snow will turn to freezing rain. 

In his master's steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing 
from Good King Wenceslas

Christmas Eve: God in us


The stomach cramps are gone but the exhaustion remains. Hours before  Christmas Eve grow short. Danielle heading to California for Christmas soon. Just enough time to squeeze out the Christmas Eve service before she leaves. I’m floundering until I find the 2003 liturgy that Katherine created. Uses the same liturgical lectionary sequence as this year. Gives me something to work from.

Time to switch the sanctuary over from Advent purple to the white of Christmas. And set out the Christmas Eve candles graciously shared with us by SanctuaryNYC from last night’s celebration.

Then a last effort to wrap up shopping and everything I couldn’t do with the unexpected events of last week and getting sick. The pressure and stress has been  unrelenting for so long. Teddy’s death was like the final push. Like my body saying, OK, so you say you can’t stop, can’t slow down? I’ll show you. 

Stop back to drop and pick up packages.Take a  final look around. Kara is asleep on the first pew. She stirs a little.  Tells me she hasn’t been able to sleep since the loss of her beloved Isaac, a neighbor shopkeeper last week . Now she’s finally able to sleep. In this safe space. 

Stephen and I go through everything. Looks OK. We ask Kara to leave for awhile as we close up until right before service. Stepping outside, I see Rachelle. Hesitate. She says, Don’t you go away. There’s need of you. Right now. That woman...and the man on the steps...there’s need of you...

We go around the corner and there is a conflict between Anna and George. As always, she is looking out for the church. And has her suspicions about George. She may be right.  I explain he’s welcome here for his periodic visits. Michael, another homeless man from the ‘hood comes up to convince us that there’s nothin wrong with George, he cool, and if we think he’s into any wrong stuff, we got the wrong guy.  I tell him I know, I know. 

George is as beside himself as I’ve seen him get. Words sputtering  out in an angry flow.  I’m catching ...woman...bitch...ho....among other words recognizable and otherwise. 

Anna says that if I’m cool with George, it’s cool with her. Then she tries to gently cajole George out of his anger using the functional street savvy I’ve seen her so effectively utilize so many times in different situations. Not working with George who continues to sputter. Out of my face....not a me.... I tell him its OK, no more conversation. 
Rachelle has been observing the whole scene.  

We turn the corner and back to the side door. I need to get out for awhile.  Stephen says Everyday of the week. And I reply And twice on Sundays...

On my way home, I stop by Barney Geengrass to pick up sable and sturgeon. Years ago, Andrea said she’d give a lot to skip the annual drive to Pittsburgh for Christmas and just stay home and eat breakfast at Barney Greengrass. So I started stopping here on Christmas Eve to bring Barney Greengrass home. Today, I’m in line behind Matt Dillon. I remember being in Tulsa, watching him shoot  Franics Ford Coppola’s take on the Outsiders. That was too long ago. I do what we do as New Yorkers, which is respect the anonymity of anyone famous or not.  When I get to the front of the line, I get ready to pay Gary and he says, You know what Reverend, good yontuf.  Know what what means? 
Sure do, Gary. Good holiday.
He smiles. Yeah, good yontuf. 

And soon enough, the waiting is over, it’s Christmas Eve. Andre has come to be my liturgical support. James has arrived. Nate and Dan will soon be here. And as always, there are guests.

My grandfather's "Yule Tie"
As the service begins, I am aware that with every Christmas, all Christmases past come flowing over you in a kaleidoscope of images. Our own individual Scrooge journey. The  excitement of after almost twenty years in ministry creating my own Christmas Eve in my own church. And our own family Christmas Eve traditions. Always wearing my grandfather’s depression era Yule tie. Home after services for the dinner we shared with others. The shifting faces around the table.  Taking candles to the Quebecois across the street. When I couldn’t get Sybille to change her own long standing tradition, taking candles to her house after our service and singing We wish you a Merry Christmas...until the year the split came with Lauren and then....well,  no more...The faces around our family table. Many gone now, for one reason or another. And the pain of missing them. Brokeness and regret. The years of the quartet. The amazing years of Larry Woodard and the Sunday Morning Circle... The inimitable Bill Schimmel and our service on Christmas Eve 2001...begun with a performance piece by his wife Mickey....a perfect night of poignance, ambivalence and beauty.....the commitment to move beyond the traditional lessons and carols liturgy to something more move beyond the liturgical theology of everything was darkness then Jesus came and presto chango light...having enough resources to actually strive to create the perfect Christmas Eve liturgy....and Katherine came close in 2003...closing the building for three years...coming to do a simple service on the steps, just to show we were there in 2009, actually coming back in 2010...with no heat, no bathrooms......all these images rushing, flowing, by...

I have come to accept that each Christmas is its own on its own terms. Can’t be forced into any preconceived box or even compared and none will ever be perfect. That is the nature of how Christmas comes. In the midst of... That is incarnation...In the middle of I accept this one as it is with its own gifts. The community that is here is my community. And my family.  This is who we are this Christmas.   

Years ago  my ministry colleague Jan, then at Jan Hus across the Park, said that for those of us non-destination churches, on Christmas Eve, when so many of our members  have returned to their homes for the holidays, we discover our true communities, those always around us though not always visible. 
I share some of all this with the congregation.  Some. 

I’m more concerned with how it feels to celebrate Christmas in Newtown, Connecticut tonight. I recall last year Occupy Faith seeking to deliver a mini Occupy tent with a holy family inside to Trinity Wall Street. And that gift being taken away, rejected.

This year, I wonder where would Jesus be born tonight? In a mold infested unlighted bungalow in Far Rockaway? Inside the police cafe comfort  tent on Midland Beach? That’s the hard, raw, beautiful side of incarnation....born among the outsiders, the shepherds, the suspicious gypsies. And angel choirs with flamenco guitar. Here is where the Christ child is born.

I ask Andre what he feels moved to sing. And slowly he moves into Sister Mary hada but one child.... and I remember back to Larry’s arrangement for dueling sopranos, for Lauren and Andrea Bradford. And tonight, the simple poignance of Andre's solo voice. 

We light our candles. Sing Silent Night. And finally Joy to the World. The service is over. 

Stephen is talking to the visiting family. Apparently they came here ten years ago. I try and remember,as they remember me, back in the day. Stephen has discovered the man's a musician. He’s being his best ambassador. I remember a day or so ago overhearing him doing the rap on our social history for visitors. He is owning it. Making it his. i look down the aisle. See Kara and Rachelle walking up side by side. In their flowing black clothes, like vestments, they could be sisters in a medieval holy order convent. Les soeurs petites de notre dame de West-Park. 

Rachelle telling me her beautiful Christmas gifts for me and my assistant, vanished, disappeared, gone...I tell her it's ok. 

Kara's has given gifts of peacock feathers to every guest. I take candles and peacock feathers across the street to our Quebecois amis. Knocking down, loading up. Their visitation  done. In a few hours, on their way back home. Montreal by noon. Christmas at home with their families. 

We’re walking home. Someone had mentioned One flew over the coockoo’s nest. Dan wants to know if the more eccentric community member might scare off visitors. Maybe, I say, but that’s not the point. We need to bring  in more who understand the beauty and value of radical hospitality. Dan wonders. Dinner awaits. Christmas has arrived. Emmanuel...God in us. God in us.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The fourth Sunday in Advent: Magnificat


Pastors Bob, Jane and Elise

For the first time in over twenty years, I seriously consider not going in to church. Woke up at 3 am with severe stomach cramps and worse. Every time I try to get up and head to church, I wind up back down again. I know it’s been going around and now I’ve  got it. But somehow I make it out the door and barely to church on time.

George still there. Stephen there waiting, doors open. Hope quickly realizes how I’m feeling, says I look green. Junia is there with her flute. I ask her to play. People gathering. Kara is here. I know she’ll learn of Teddy’s death. Not sure how she’ll handle it. I know I have to be here.

I'm dehydrated.  Stephen brings me a cold ginger ale. Never tasted better. 

I ask Junia to play one more. Say that the flute is a wind instrument. Wind, ruach in Hebrew. The wind that blew over the waters at creation. The wind of the Holy Spirit. Sons Dan and Nate have come too. No Teddy to light the candles this week. All four are lit. And his vela de memoria continues to burn as well. 

Magnificat Sunday. Mary’s soul magnifies....and we sing Magnificat, magnificat, magnificat omnia me dominum...and as we enter into prayers, Kara understands...gasps....keeps it together...

We read the first scripture, Micah 5: 2-5a. Then sing O Little Town of Bethlehem. Then Luke 1: 26-38. And then, the sound of Paul Mc Cartney singing Let it Be fills the church. ( And Kara begins to sob. We read the Magnificat, Luke 1: 46-55. 

I bring up Teddy again, teasing me for cultural references 40 years old.... and then point out how Let it Be flows right out of Luke... all the images, the yearning, the acceptance. What a harsh season this is. Hurricane Sandy. Newtown. Losing Teddy. You just never know what any day will bring. You think you know, but you don’t. To be crude, you send your children to school and a madman comes and blows them away. You wake up and  a  friend is dead. That is the context in which we sing the magnificat, let it be...

It all happens because Mary says yes. Says Let it be... And the amazing thing is that her song sings of these things as if they have already been accomplished. When clearly you look around and they haven’t been. I look at Arcadia and remember being in Managua in 1982. At a street mass. A woman who had learned to read in the campana de alfabetizacion, which Hugo had participated in. As she read Mary’s song, recalled the overthrow of Somoza, the triumph of the revolution,  the world that opened with words, as she finished the passage, she said this has happened in her life. And the words were alive for me. Thirty years later, what would she say?

I recall the power of worship in communities of struggle, African-American, LGBTQ, Latino...the radical quality of joy. Someone says that word, hope, it’s hope, it’s knowing that you’re part of a bigger struggle, one that goes on before, during and after us.... and we seek to open our hearts to know it, to believe it, to feel it....let it be...

As we pass the offering plates, the sound of Bette Midler singing the Rose ( . And I recall how my pastor lounge singer friend Tracy in Pittsburgh  used to do a medley of Lo how a rose e’er blooming and the Rose...

And to declare our hope we sing, Joy to the World...

I had to be here. My people were here. Who I needed to see. Who needed to see each other. Lifted by Tracy K, by Don, by..... all. 

But now I’m feeling it. I go get cash so that we can make more relief kits for Sandy. On the way I see Marty. He holds out his hand, then sees its me and brings it back. 
So reverend, you message done?
What did you preach about?
The first minister I ever worked for always said about God and about 20 minutes...
Ah my father, I told you about his white handkerchief right, how he’d sweat? He’d preach 18 minutes and use the other two to ask for money. Couldn’t touch it on shabbes.   So he’d send me out to Jerome Avenue to collect after shabbes. Not many Jews left in the Bronx. All gone. I studied it in school. Wasn’t economy, it was....was....ecology? People and cultures and the Bronx? Ya always work stories in right? People love stories...
I tell him, bless you Marty, and that I have to go. 
He says, may the good lord bless and keep you.
And as I’m walking up the street, hey, my mother told me there was a poor man changed his clothes once a month. The middle aged, uh, middle man changed his every two weeks. And the rich man, every five minutes. That’s how it is. That’s a Biblical story....
I smile and say every five minutes....and head back to church.

....he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich empty away....

Lilly and Samantha will head  up the relief work. I need to head home. 

Where I sleep until its time to go back at 5....

                                                 * * * *

We’re gathering with Jane’s Sanctuary folk and the In Performance Jazz band and my friend Pastor Elise from Advent Lutheran for an inter/intrafaith celebration if the light. Candles lit from many faith traditions, our words of light. Shared. A walking meditation of receiving and sharing the light. I am exhausted but Jane’s energy is carrying me along. I speak of the context of Sandy, Newtown, Teddy’s loss again. And how the light has been there from the beginning of time and has never gone out, even when dim....

When I hear Jeremy’s choir launch into High Praise ( , I feel a pang. I recall when my choir introduced that song into this space.  My thenintern Eleanor brought it and our then  music director, cabaret artist Larry Woodard brought his own touch to it and had our Sunday Morning Circle of Singers rock the house with it. I will not be satisfied until I have my own music again.

The service rocks to a conclusion with praise and applause. I stay to collect embraces. Say goodnight to my people. Say good night to George. Go home and collapse. 

One more day....

Bring out the tall tales now


Mandola  Joe and Pat O

I come to the church to get everything ready for Sunday. Missing Teddy, of course. Stephen is there ready to do everything he can to help me. Purple covering for the table again. Advent wreath, candles. Anna comes in again, just to see what’s going on, puppy with her. Wondering about Dan. What we can do to keep him out of jail, which would benefit no one. 

I finish the worship service. Danielle will be in later. I’ve got to go out and do some Christmas shopping. Running out of time. 

I come back to pick up the copies of Dylan Thomas’ Child’s Christmas in Wales, but RL has picked them up already. 

I meet TL, Poet Tim, Mandola Joe and Irish Pat O at the Gate. RL has divided the text into parts and is preparing us for his production. RL’s favorite part begins with Bring out the tall tales now... but when I share my own memories, he cedes it to me and decide he’ll wrap it up and bring it to conclusion.

My memory? Our very first Comfort Ye! concert back in 1995. In addition to Lauren and her opera singers, I got my clergy colleagues.  to do readings from the season. My friend Alistair had this one. We came directly from his Christmas party for us, with ample single malt. With his Scottish brogue, his rendering of Good King Wenceslas in a small dry voice ...was truly Dylanesque and memorable. 

We walk up the cold streets to the Kateri residence to do a performance for RL’s wife Joan (Harvey). Temporarily in residence there. Named for Kateri Tekawitihi, the first Native American saint, perhaps fitting given RL’s Indian reservation upbringing.

Kateri Tekakwitihi

It’ s planned as a surprise. RL goes in first. Then, on cue, Poet Tim. Then me. Harvey’s face lighting with each successive entry. Then Poet Tim and finally Pat. The Thomas text flows in its homey warmth, just north of nostalgia. And Harvey laughs. 

Mandola Joe plays and I give a Good King Wenceslas. RL brings his Who’s That Fat Man? Pat backs up Mandola then brings his own version of Delta Dawn. Harvey’s roommate is enjoying our performance and Pat walks over to greet her personally. Nurses are coming in. Other patients wheeling into the room until there’s no room left for our impromptu concert.

There are carols. And of course RL finishes with his Red Ryder and the fat lady....his tribute to his Aunt Mabel at a Christmas long ago. Which he read as we finished our clean up at the very first Crafts Fair and Balcony Music Festival two Decembers ago. Which opened my eyes to RL as his words entered the West-Park walls. Let’s say his piece evokes the western Americana  I knew in a way I think Dylan Thomas would appreciate. 
RL and Poet Tim

And soon it is time to go. Back into the cold streets. And I am thankful for this moment of Christmas grace in a much too harsh season.

from Dylan Thomas...

Bring out the tall tales now that we told by the fire as the gaslight bubbled like a diver. Ghosts whooed like owls in the long nights when I dared not look over my shoulder; animals lurked in the cubbyhole under the stairs and the gas meter ticked. And I remember that we went singing carols once, when there wasn't the shaving of a moon to light the flying streets. At the end of a long road was a drive that led to a large house, and we stumbled up the darkness of the drive that night, each one of us afraid, each one holding a stone in his hand in case, and all of us too brave to say a word. The wind through the trees made noises as of old and unpleasant and maybe webfooted men wheezing in caves. We reached the black bulk of the house. "What shall we give them? Hark the Herald?"
"No," Jack said, "Good King Wencelas. I'll count three." One, two three, and we began to sing, our voices high and seemingly distant in the snow-felted darkness round the house that was occupied by nobody we knew. We stood close together, near the dark door. Good King Wencelas looked out On the Feast of Stephen ... And then a small, dry voice, like the voice of someone who has not spoken for a long time, joined our singing: a small, dry, eggshell voice from the other side of the door: a small dry voice through the keyhole. And when we stopped running we were outside our house; the front room was lovely; balloons floated under the hot-water-bottle-gulping gas; everything was good again and shone over the town.
"Perhaps it was a ghost," Jim said.
"Perhaps it was trolls," Dan said, who was always reading.
"Let's go in and see if there's any jelly left," Jack said. And we did that.