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In the Cold There Are Candles

The sanctuary is bright, bright, the severe Puritan white of everything moderated by the jeweltone quilt hung in the front and the two immense squares hanging from the balcony windows on either side, two immense squares bearing names, remembrances, handprints, love expressed in pen and quilting, years of life. Most from the forties or fifties spanning to the nineties, one 1982-1990 with photographs of a family laminated to the fabric.

The disco ball rotates over the chancel as we are called to sing, and we sing “Deck the Halls” with all the promise of Advent, we strike the harp and join the chorus in the house of remembrance, in the gathering chill of winter. Candles are lit, so many for the many recent dead, some also for hopes, for joys, the bowl for candles brimming with lights.

I look through the order of service, read the texts of the music I missed when taking the little ones down to the nursery, and half-laugh, as one of the pieces, listed as ‘sung in German’, is translated “There’s no getting along with some people.” The church is packed, overflowing, which I was expecting from the parking, expecting because it is the parish minister’s farewell sermon, and she has been there about as long as I have, a little longer, though without the five-year gap in the middle. It makes the sound on the balcony difficult, and I strain for hearing.

Two of the youth – one on the piano, one a vocalist – are performing Orbison’s “Blue Bayou”, and I cannot help but remember, looking out at the square of the AIDS quilt with the quote from e. e. cummings, that reads “WHO WIELDS A POEM HUGER THAN THE GRAVE ?“, and they say it is a song for Advent, about longing and reaching, and it is that, but I think of the video for the Traveling Wilburys, The End of the Line, and the empty chair with Orbison’s guitar, remembering him in his absence. (And I think of Tom Petty, and I think of George Harrison, and I think….)

The parish minister speaks of love, of support, of this place and what she has learned there, which is much of why I go there even though it is not my local church, still drive back towards it, to the warmth in the cold, the blazing candles, the disco ball. She tells stories, good ones, painful ones, she begs us to be kind and put the hymnals away in proper order, she mentions a problem with the drains that makes us laugh. I go down to her receiving line, I hug her twice, we talk, as we do on occasion, and she mentions being pleased I’m getting published, and I mention I lent a copy of the book to John, and she says she will read it after he does.

The church, brimful, has unloaded into the common room for coffee hour and it is so loud and crowded it nearly makes me – already leaky from the quilt, the poem, the sermon, the candles – nearly cry from overwhelm. I put away my nametag and flee into the basement to find the babies, and sit with the youngest nestled against my chest for a while in the quiet of the playroom, not surrounded by the overwhelming and above all noisy love of this home of spirit.

We the people look east for love, the guest, the rose, the star. The crowning of the year comes, and it may be cold, and we may mourn, and there will be partings, but there will still be candles lit for joy and sorrow, in the candleburning dark of the year.

(Haven’t managed one of these for a while.)

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