It was a present sent from Canadian friends and my New Years Day read. The gift of a good book that took me from Seattle to Philadelphia, lingered with me for a three hour layover, and on a bumpy prop plane to Baltimore.
K.D. Miller’s amazing collection of interconnected short stories, All Saints, traveled with me through a day of in-between. Took me away to an imaginary world of a dwindling Anglican parish in Toronto. Here, at All Saints, where funerals outnumber baptisms. Where Garth and his wife marked their 50th anniversary and where Emily was married. The parish which Alice attended as a little girl, and where Owen attends a writing class today. The parish where Simon, the recently widowed rector, struggles with the possibility of love and the limits of his faith.
What unites each, their humanity. Their regrets, griefs, fears, losses. Their longing for connection, meaning, and healing.
And at the cracks, a meeting in old words and ancient prayers. Here, where the limits of what can be figured out, reasoned out, thought through are surpassed. Where what needs be put to rest cannot be put to rest, a return to ancient ritual. The kind of ritual that leads Simon to climb on top of his office desk late one night to dissemble a fire alarm. To sit with a man he does not know to burn letters from a woman he has never met. To put to rest in ritual and prayer, what must be put to rest so that both again can turn to life.
No one is innocent. Each character struggles. Love, faith, marriage, sex, death, aging, mental illness. Like us, they are odd and lovely. Alienated and ostracized. Flawed, frustrated, fearful, frail. Complex, ambivalent.
And real. So very real. All Saints is not The Vicar of Dibley or The Mitford Series. The stories are raw. Shocking. And the reality, the humanity in each leads me to love these characters. Even those I do not understand and do not like. The stories that haunt me and the decisions I cannot comprehend. Something here in this humanity that leads me to such love. Leads me to look up from my book, out to the strangers with whom I am traveling all day.
It is the 5 p.m. service at my sister’s Episcopal church in downtown Bethesda. White walls, wooden pews, clear glass panes. The young rector in blue jeans. A congregation of 30 or so of us scattered throughout the front pews. Sari asks for volunteers to read the epistle and gospel lessons, lead the prayers, hold the chalices.
I look around. All the stories we carry. We barely know them ourselves. All the narratives that have shaped our lives, decisions. The limits of which have brought us here at the close of a Sunday afternoon in fading light to gather in a church with people we do not know well or at all. Why have we come? So many different things we could be doing. So many needs, desires that have led us here. But maybe as well, the longing to find a way to whatever promise of the new a turning of the calendar means.
The ever-expanding, always opening to the other, the outsider, the stranger – this, Sari says, is what is at the heart of the story of Epiphany, the story of the magi. He wonders with us, who we leave out, who is beyond the fold of our acceptance. I wonder on all those parts inside I have struggled to accept.
The Lord be with you.
And also with you….
We rise, gather around the communion table. A wafer placed in cupped hands. The body of Christ. The chalice passed. The cup of salvation.
Can this body, these bodies, these stories in us all be turned, saved, redeemed – whatever those words might mean. Can we be healed and hoped into something more? Maybe. This evening, we hold more hope in the possibility.
A lockdown at a Seattle high school. Journalists killed by terrorists in Paris, one “terrorist” a mere 18 years old. The news, the need, the stories go on and on and on. How do we take it all in, hold it all? Whatever we once might have hoped our communities of faith would provide in times like ours isn’t what many of us say we need. We’ve given up. Moved on. Whatever we need, some kind of meeting, some kind of faith that has yet to be formed.
Gracious God, lover of all, in this sacrament we are one family…
I read All Saints, and the longing, the hunger for the possibility of church grows in me. The longing for some kind of meeting, gathering in ancient words infused with fresh fire. A connection to draw us together amidst everything that drives us apart. A gathering for the saints and sinners in us all to come together in our humanity – to name, to grieve, to rage, to speak, to be silent, to wait, to pray, to act, to bring together, bring the possibility of all of us together – what we know and the mystery of all we do not.
Now eight days into this New Year. Two weeks since Christmas has passed. I’m not done. Not done with the new.
Maybe, maybe today, the time to begin, and begin again. Risk a little more real. A little more open. A little more connection.
A little more open to the possibility.