yesterday morning, my mom’s visit to san francisco from florida ended. i visited her before work and then she left. my ladyfriend had left the morning before. but i had a plan.
christmas may not be the day of jesus’ birth, but it is a day when much of the northern hemisphere is in need of some light and warmth. so appropriating the whole solstice thing was pretty smart. and although my understanding of the way that it got appropriated is pretty troubling, i still like the gathering in light and warmth. and since my dear ones were either away or had other plans, i decided to go church.
i actually had this giant scheme of going to as many church services as possible on the 24th and 25th. but i invited someone along with me, and coordinating that among two people can be hard. and my list felt a little bit like a list of tourist locations i wanted to visit, so i let it be a little less crammed. and the two services i went to last night and the meeting this morning were just right.
the first service we went to was at the swedenborgian church for their children and family service. there was scripture reading and singing, and i found myself singing my heart out with a group for the first time in a long time. for much of my adolescence, choir singing was what i did, but as i got older i didn’t want my high-pitched girly voice any more. and then once i started ridding myself of that voice, with the aid of hormones, i discovered that you don’t approach a tenor voice the way you approach a soprano voice, and when you try, you sound like peter brady. which was really hard to deal with. but i sang last night, and i sat with these people who reminded me of so many congregations i’ve shared christmas with in the past.
and then we went to st. gregory (after getting turned away from a church that was too full), the episcopalian church that is hugely featured in take this bread, a book i read recently. and it was just like it was in the book, and it was lovely, and i am not an episcopalian. at the end of michael engaged paul, the “interim rector” as the website tells me, in a conversation about a comment paul had made about shepherds as disreputable characters. he responded JUST LIKE HE WOULD HAVE IN THE BOOK, which was really weird. i KNEW he wasn’t a fictional character, but having someone who you’ve only ever imagined in your mind come alive right before you can be pretty fantastic. paul welcomed us both and asked if it was our first time there, and i told him yes and that i’d read sara’s book, and that while i appreciated it, michael and i were definitely quakers. he laughed and said, “i love quakers! we’re sort of the tibetan buddhist quakers.”
we came home, and i put my vegetables in the oven for an hour while i did some pre-bed things. somehow those two services had been all i needed to feel welcomed, to really appreciate my own community, and to feel terribly exhausted. eventually i made it bed, falling asleep pretty much immediately.
this morning i made breakfast for myself and michael, and we headed over to the meetinghouse. we were the first people there, shortly followed by elizabeth, who brought the turkey, some pies, plum chutney, and table decorations. more people gathered and then there was meeting for worship.
ruth spoke of herod and his love of power and how that is an addiction and how sorry she feels for him, and pete who was sitting next to me talked about forgiveness and how difficult that is. later, during lunch, i heard ruth remind pete that forgiveness isn’t the magical automatic thing people make it out to be, and that you first have to accept that the anger you are feeling is okay to feel, that the hurt is real. and maybe that was just some sort of psychological insight, but that moment felt strangely important.
i also spoke. i spoke about this being a time for family and friends, and how paradoxically i found myself desiring to be welcomed as a stranger. i spoke about how at this time of year the line between friends and family instead of strangers becomes a little blurrier. i spoke about my gratitude at how i was accepted at the other churches and how it reminded me of being welcomed at our meeting, and how welcoming strangers is so important, because that’s the only way to build friends and family, to build the beloved community.
before i spoke, i had some things i really thought i was going to say, but something shifted as i stood there, and i’m still not sure what it was, and if the shift was my own or outside of myself. i had really meant to focus on how hard it is to welcome strangers, but that never made it out. maybe it was too smug? or maybe it was there without me having to say it.
later i talked to a few people about it, including michael, who hadn’t thought of our journey in quite the same terms (though neither had i until meeting for worship), and to whom i mentioned that it was as much a matter of me welcoming strangers as it was them welcoming me.
being a stranger at someone else’s church is a lot like being with family. we are coming from the same place, but we do it so differently. and the places we meet at can be delightful, and the places where we differ can be so tense. because if we share so much, how can they do things so differently? how are we still strangers?