Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Small treasures

She is a tiny waif of a child, the progeny of a Caucasian mother who graduated from MIT and an Asian father who graduated from Columbia (as I recall their pedigrees). So, I suppose one ought not be surprised that she is quite precocious for her six years. She has an older brother who is also pretty astounding all on his own.

She recently tested for reading and comprehension at a third grade level. That’s as much a testimony to genetics as it is to the excellent parenting she receives. Her parents read to their children all the time.

And, when they are not reading to them, they listen to books on the MP3 player whenever they take long trips in their car.

In fact, they had listened to the entire series of The Golden Compass long before forty members of our congregation went to see the movie last fall. They were able to fill us in on all the details from the books which were not covered in the film with an enthusiasm and excitement which were a remarkable contrast to those of us who had only seen the film,

A few weeks ago, as I was walking into church during the processional, I happened to notice that she and her mother were following along in the Hymnal. I was surprised to note that she was mouthing the correct words.

“Can she read the words and music?” I asked her mother later at Coffee Hour. “Yes,” she said, “she can. In fact, I’ve been meaning to ask you. Are you still giving away Books of Common Prayer?”

I have started a tradition of giving away BCPs in October, the month when there are three great martyrs of the Reformation are on our Liturgical Calendar. I love the language of the BCP – yes, even Rite I has its place – and I want to make certain that I share the great heritage and legacy of our faith, as contained in this great book with my congregation.

“Yes,” I said. “In fact, I am.”

“Well, my daughter would love to have her own book, if you don’t mind.”

“Mind?” I said, “Of course I don’t mind. Are you sure she’s ready?”

“Well, she’s asked for it, and she is reading at a third grade level.”

“Then,” I said, “she shall have her own, inscribed Book of Common Prayer. I don’t think you can ever be too young to have your own prayer book.”

That was just before Easter. Last Sunday was the first chance I had to ready a book for her, to think and pray about what I wanted to inscribe in it and what I wanted to say when I gave it to her.

The significance of this is not to be diminished. It would be just a moment in time, a private moment between she and me. I wanted her memory of this to be something that would inspire and encourage her in her albeit very young journey of faith. I had no idea of the worth it would have in my own life.

That moment came this past Sunday. We had just had a marvelous storyteller preach the service and tell us stories during a festive parish lunch (featuring a FABULOUS vegetarian spicy corn stew made by our own Emmy, Director of Christian Education) following the service. I seized the moment to approach her when her mother left to go fetch their coats.

“Mommy tells me that you want your own Book of Common Prayer. Is that right?” Her eyes grew wide with excitement and, barely able to speak, she nodded her head yes as something like a squeak allowed itself to escape from her throat.

“Well,” I said, “here it is: your very own Book of Common Prayer. With your name in it so no one will ever confuse it with anyone else’s Prayer Book.”

I wish you could have seen her face. I can still see the round ‘O’ of astonishment of her little mouth, which closely matched almost perfectly the wideness of her beautiful almond-shaped eyes. She took the book and clutched it to her heart like a newly cherished friend.

Her mother appeared beside her and said, in very motherly tones, “What do you say to Reverend Elizabeth?”

“Oh,” she said, in something like a reverent whisper of a prayer. “Thank you. Thank you, Reverend Elizabeth, for my very own prayer book.”

Her mother leaned toward me and whispered, “She’ll take it to bed with her every night. I can assure you. She sleeps with her favorite books and stuffed animals.”

There are moments in the life of a parish priest that are far too fleeting, but which make up for all of the tedium and challenge that are part and parcel of this impossible vocation.

This was one of those moments. I’ve been cherishing it, perhaps as much as this little child cherished the moment she received her first Book of Common Prayer.

Later this week, I will preside at the Burial Office for one of our elderly parishioners who died from complications after the long, dreadful effects of a debilitating stroke, which left the center of language in her brain with the receptive capacity of understanding, but with the inability to communicate in anything but garbled nonsense.

The beautiful language of the Book of Common Prayer, the genius of the shape of the liturgy, will provide comfort and solace to her family, and bring decorum and respect to a life that suffered the indignities which marked the later years of her life.

I ask you, what else can accomplish so great a feat? What other book can live up to this great challenge?

I only hope that I will impart to this little child the great treasure of this little book; that it will convey to her the comfort of her faith and the challenge of her life in Christ.

These are the moments that define ordained ministry. These are the moments of parochial ministry I will cherish and treasure forever.

I only pray, in the midst of these troubled times in our church, for the strength and courage to think on these things, these small, treasured moments when Christ is truly present and we are able to catch a glimpse of the deep joy which the apostles knew.


emmy said...

Hehehe...thanks for the mention! Great story! I'll have to remember to ask her about it. Although she's probably read it cover to cover and knows more than I do...

Fr Craig said...

Thanks so much, Elizabeth - when I try to explain why I am so grateful to God for this calling, those are the moments I try to relate! I dearly love the little ones who run up to the rail and whip out their hands! Wish the adults were so excited!

Do you encourage 'reverend' in lieu of 'Mother'? Just asking - being called reverend drives me crazy...

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Sorry, Craig, but I really don't like the message of "Mother" or "Father". I think it sets everyone up for a family dynamic that is simply not healthy.

I don't like "Reverend" either, but when parents insist on some form of respectful appellation (which I fully understand), I'd much rather, if they are going to break a grammatical rule, they break it in a more relational way. So, I go with my first name.

Except in very formal situations, or in front of the children, parents call me Elizabeth. It's what God calls me, and I figure if it's good enough for Her, it should be good enough for everyone.

susankay said...

What a lovely gift you were given in return for a small and lovely gift you gave. (NOT to say that the BCP is a small gift -- just perhaps in relation to her response)

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Oh, wow, I have a great tag-team for your story.

We have three little girls in our church, all between 3-5 years old. One of our Altar Guild has been coaching them in learning to bring the "breadbox" and the cruets to the altar. The first week they got to do their thing, I was acolyte. They looked SOOOOOO excited and cute bringing it up.

I squatted clear down to the floor, took each with an excited "Thank you", and got the biggest kick out of the joy in their faces. When I was sitting while people were coming to the rail, one of them kept looking directly at me, just BEAMING. I just grinned and winked at her.

After church, our vicar told me, "You were the PERFECT person to be the first one to get the stuff from the kids...first of all, b/c you are limber enough you can squat clear to the floor...but mostly because when you turned back around, I got the biggest kick myself out of how happy you seemed with it all! It was a perfect moment for all of us!"

So I can imagine PERFECTLY how this little girl looked, and how happy this moment made YOU! Great story!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks for your story, Kirk. Makes parish ministry really worth it, right?