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Friday, October 19, 2007

Sunday Morning Coming Down

Sorry, but I don't really give two figs if I am breaking any rules in reprinting this essay here.

You just gotta read this by Garrison Keillor who, in my not so humble opinion, is the best preacher in any church anywhere. I always listen to him on Saturday nights.

His essay reminds me of when Ms. Conroy was working the front lines of the AIDS Crisis in Baltimore. It was 1987. The AIDS Epidemic was just hitting Baltimore after beginning in 1981 in SanFran and Boston.

She would hie herself hence to a little Anglo-Catholic Parish we lovingly called "GASP" (Grace and St. Peter - but not necessarily the church referred to by Mr. Keillor) where our youngest daughter attended Elementary School and wore bloomers under her blue uniform and a starched white shirt with a Peter Pan Collar and learned Latin in the first grade and Greek in the second grade and kept them both in her studies through grade six.

She will tell you that it was the best damned education she ever received. She still speaks fondly of "Father Bullwinkle" (you know who you are and I understand that you occasionally visit here and still do not favor the ordination of women but you have always been lovely and gracious unto me) and continues to favor saying the Creed the way she was taught in mandatory Morning Prayer - from the 1928 BCP (Alas! But I know Fr. Bullwinkle would be so pleased).

This was also the church where porn star Tracy Lord was married to the son of Pat Moran, owner of a prominent Casting Company, devout member of the church and companion of fellow Baltimorians John Waters and Divine, but that's another story for another time.

(Oh, Fr. Bullwinkle, of your mercy and kindness, do tell the story about 'that wedding' and I promise to clean it up and make is suitable for the readership of this Blog).

Ms. Conroy would attend 8 AM Sunday Eucharist which was said from the 1928 Prayer Book - the words from which she had been baptized, confirmed and previously married. On any given Sunday 10 souls were in attendance. No Peace was passed. The church was notorious in not accepting the ordination of women. A shrine to "Bonnie Prince Charlie" was prominent even tucked away in the right rear corner of the Narthex.

I asked her why she did it. How she did it. Given the obvious theological conflicts.

She said, "Look, I lose about 3 - 4 people a week to this epidemic. These are people I know and love. I work hard to keep them alive and nothing I do seems to have any effect. I need a place, just one place, at the beginning of my week, where I know who God is and where God is and that there's some semblance of order and control in the universe. Please don't deny me this one hour of illusion. Some days, it's the only thing that keeps me going."

I never did. I never would. For her. Or, anybody.

But, Garrison Keillor says it so much better than I.


Sunday morning coming down

I'm an old, tired Democrat, sick of this infernal war, but here in an old brownstone church there is a moment of separation from all the griefs of this world.

By Garrison Keillor

Oct. 17, 2007 In Baltimore with friends Sunday morning, a splendid fall day under blue skies, we marched off to the nearest church and found ourselves in an old brownstone temple of 1852, wooden box pews, stained glass on all sides, old tiled floor, for a high Anglican-Catholic Mass, a troop of choristers in white, altar boys, bearded priests in medieval vestments, holy water and puffs of smoke and bells and chanting of scripture, precision bowing and genuflecting, all rather exotic for an old fundamentalist like me but deeply moving, and it made me think about my father, whose birthday was Oct. 12, and brought me to tears.

It was formal high Mass, none of that "hi and how are we all doing this morning" chumminess, and the homily only summarized the scripture texts about healing, it didn't turn into an essay on healthcare. Ten voices strong and true in the choir and positioned as they were under the great arch of the chancel, their tender polyphonic Kyrie and Gloria infused the whole building with pure kindness.

The singing was O my God just heartbreakingly good. There were less than 30 of us in the pews, fewer than the names on the prayer list, and to hear "Behold, how good and joyful it is; brethren, to dwell together in unity" sung so eloquently as the priests swung to their tasks was to be present in a moment of extravagant grace that does not depend on numbers or any other measure of success for its meaning, just as the Grand Canyon does not depend on busloads of tourists to be magnificent. Most of our brethren, bless them, are off enjoying brunch or reading the funnies or lifting weights at the gym, and our faithfulness does not make us better people. We simply happened to walk by and see this vast canyon of God's love and stand looking into it.

Faithfulness was a guiding principle in Dad's life. He was the fifth of eight children of a farmer and a schoolteacher on a little farm on Trott Brook in Minnesota. Dad worked with his hands, tending his garden, fixing his cars, cutting and joining wood. He was faithful to his family, to the Ford Motor Co., and also to his separatist theology and visions of millennial splendor. If you are true to Christ and separate yourself from this world, you will be raised to glory in paradise. My father was faithful to this, even as his little band of believers dwindled, diminished by schism and by escaping children, and I was unfaithful.

I separated myself from the separatists with my eyes open. I wanted to live a big complicated life and not sit in a closet. I do not repent of that, though I have plenty else to repent of and am sorry that it came between Dad and me. There have been dozens of people who happened to sit next to me on airplanes over the years who knew more about me than my dad did. No more his fault than mine.

Now I'm an old, tired Democrat, sick of this infernal war that may go on for the rest of my life and in which more of our brethren will die miserably, both American and Iraqi. I'm sick of politics today, the cleverness and soullessness of it. I am still angry at Al Gore for wearing those stupid sweaters in 2000 and pretending he didn't know Bill Clinton, and I am angry at everyone who voted for Ralph Nader. I hope the next time they turn the key in the ignition their air bags blow up.

But here in an old brownstone church at an ancient ceremony, there is a moment of separation from all the griefs of this world. Ten men and women are singing a cappella, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name," and their voices drench us fugitive worshippers kneeling, naked, trembling, needy, in the knowledge of grace, and when we arise and go out into Baltimore, the blessing follows us.

It followed me as I ate a dozen oysters that afternoon and hung around the library and paid homage to H.L. Mencken's house on Union Square, that hearty old sinner who said, "Church is a place in which gentlemen who have never been to heaven brag about it to persons who will never get there." Thank you for your service to our language, Henry. Thank you for your life, Dad. And now onward to November and the first good snowfall and the first day of ice-skating.

(Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.)

© 2007 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

1 comment:

joemar said...

Happy, Blessed Anniversary on your 30 short years lol as a priest. Love to you and yours, including family, kids and animals.

I only know you from reading Susan's blog and have always enjoyed your comments.

God is so good. I was working for National Medical Enterprises, Inc. from 1984 - 1994 at the Corporate Offices. In Corporate Human Resources, not bad for a kid growing up poor in Pasadena CA, of course on the side where the people of color and poor people live in Pasadena (Shh Shh). Anyways, grew up, joined Navy in 1972, (welcome to alcohol & drugs), in the closet (I was raised Roman Catholic).

I guess my point is that my one and partner in life Richard died of AIDS on March 3, 1993.

At NME we were a great company and treated are employees with great respect. 1984 was the year when are company decided to treat any and all employees with AIDS respect, commpassion and dignity. We did not throw these employees to the curb. We took care of them, including care at on of our 335 hospitals. We had 175,000 employees. These were difficult times.

Thank you for all you have done with your God given talents and work. You are a great women, just like my grandmother (she is the one who taught me about God, how to pray and see God in everything and everyone.