The congregation sang off key.
The priest was rambling.
The paint was peeling in the Sacristy.
A wayward pigeon, trapped in the church,
flew wildly around for a while and then
flew toward a stained glass window,
but it didn’t look like reality.
The ushers yawned, the dollar bills
drifted lazily out of the collection baskets
and a child in the front row began to cry.
Suddenly, the pigeon flew down low,
swooping over the heads of the faithful
like the Holy Ghost descending at Pentecost
Everyone took it to be a sign,
Everyone wants so badly to believe.
You can survive anything if you know
that someone is looking out for you,
but the sky outside the stained glass window,
doesn’t it look like home?
~June Beisch, “Holy Ghost” from Fatherless Women.
A little aside from the main road,
becalmed in a last-century greyness,
there is the chapel, ugly, without the appeal
to the tourist to stop his car
and visit it. The traffic goes by,
and the river goes by, and quick shadows
of clouds, too, and the chapel settles
a little deeper into the grass.
But here once on an evening like this,
in the darkness that was about
his hearers, a preacher caught fire
and burned steadily before them
with a strange light, so that they saw
the splendour of the barren mountains
about them and sang their amens
fiercely, narrow but saved
in a way that men are not now.
~R.S. Thomas “The Chapel”
The church knelt heavy
above us as we attended Sunday School,
circled by age group and hunkered
on little wood folding chairs
where we gave our nickels, said
our verses, heard the stories, sang
the solid, swinging songs.
It could have been God above
in the pews, His restless love sifting
with dust from the joists. We little
seeds swelled in the stone cellar, bursting
to grow toward the light.
Maybe it was that I liked how, upstairs, outside,
an avid sun stormed down, burning the sharp-
edged shadows back to their buildings, or
how the winter air knifed
after the dreamy basement.
Maybe the day we learned whatever
would have kept me believing
I was just watching light
poke from the high, small window
and tilt to the floor where I could make it
a gold strap on my shoe, wrap
my ankle, embrace
any part of me.
~Maureen Ash “Church Basement”
There is much wrong with churches overall,
comprised as they are of fallen people
with broken wings and fractured faith.
We seem odd, keen to find flaws in one another
as we crack open and spill our own.
Yet what is right with the church is
who we pray to, why we sing, feast together
and share His Word.
We are visible people joined together
as a body bloodied and bruised.
Someone is looking out for us
despite our thoroughly motley messiness.
Our Lord of Heaven and Earth
rains down His restless love upon our heads,
no matter how humble a building we worship in,
or how we look or feel today.
The dove descends upon us.
We are simply grateful to be alive,
to raise our hands together, to sing and kneel and bow
in a house, indeed a home that God calls His own.
This year’s Advent theme “Dawn on our Darkness” is taken from this 19th century Christmas hymn.
Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,
dawn on our darkness and lend us your aid.
Star of the east, the horizon adorning,
guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.
~Reginald Heber -from “Brightest and Best”
The old church leans nearby a well-worn road,
Upon a hill that has no grass or tree,
The winds from off the prairie now unload
The dust they bring around it fitfully.
The path that leads up to the open door
Is worn and grayed by many toiling feet
Of us who listen to the Bible lore
And once again the old-time hymns repeat.
And ev’ry Sabbath morning we are still
Returning to the altar waiting there.
A hush, a prayer, a pause, and voices fill
The Master’s House with a triumphant air.
The old church leans awry and looks quite odd,
But it is beautiful to us and God.
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