We’ve been here for five weeks now and, not surprisingly, we’re still trying different churches.
We thought for Easter Sunday we’d try a new church that we had enjoyed going to the last time we lived here. They didn’t have much of a kids’ program at that time, but it has since grown, so much in fact that their single Easter service was being held in the Davies Symphony Hall downtown.
We were a tad late thanks to the combined efforts of our three children and the complexities of downtown parking. And it turned out that the church wasn’t exaggerating their need by renting the hall. James and I were relegated to the second tier.
It was rather magnificent sitting that high, our backs to the curved dome of the roof, looking down into the gold and light glittering hall with its full orchestra and forty-person choir.
I’ve heard a lot said from various people against big churches, but let me tell you, whether you like it or not we belong to a very big church.
And yesterday I recognized it. There was a low rumble of seats from top to bottom when everyone stood. There were people from every heritage, a global throng echoing in unison, “He is risen, indeed!” It was an impossibly large crowd in an impossibly beautiful space reflecting light from every surface and confessing in one voice, one baptism and one Lord.
I gloried in the foretaste. I reveled in the promise that I was not alone. I was just one facet of a church that began long before me and extended to peoples beyond my imagination. And one day I would see his kingdom come, more perfect still than this poor reflection, of one voice but known individually and fully.
It was a beautiful service and afterwards we picked up the kids and began walking the six or so blocks through downtown to a friend’s house where we’d be eating Easter brunch.
The neighborhood we live in is well out of downtown and, as yet, we hadn’t run into the mass of city’s homeless. But we did now.
We passed several people holding signs before my son tugged my sleeve.
I gave him a dollar and his sister got a dime and they approached a man and placed the money in his cup.
There were men sleeping on the sidewalk lined up in front of a building providing some type of services. A woman with no teeth in a wheelchair glowed to see us coming in all our Easter glory and crooned at the baby as we got closer. She noticed the kids looking at the man passed out, half-dressed on the sidewalk next to her.
“Oh, don’t look at him. You don’t want to see him. Look at me, oh, don’t you all look so nice! You enjoy ‘em, Momma, they grow up so fast.”
I nodded and said, “Happy Easter.”
The buildings were stained, the sidewalks were dirty and here I walked with two kids in Sunday clothes managing to rub their bodies and arms over every available surface. A man in a wheelchair greeted us grandly before selling a bag of crack to a customer. The customer loudly admired the kids’ clothes before opening the bag to make sure the crack was, indeed, in there. My daughter decided she was done walking and collapsed to the sidewalk and laid her face down on the stained pavement. We passed a man cursing in his sleep, pants not completely on, surrounded by the sum of his soiled belongings. My son began making a list of ways to make money to help give people houses.
At one point, I turned around to discover my daughter playing in the small square foot of dirt surrounding a city tree. Next to her in the dirt was a rotting apple core. And I could see the pee stain on the tree above her head. I called her over as I carried baby, diaper bag, and everybody’s coats, but she’s three, so she didn’t come and when James finally pulled her up, there her thumb went, straight in her mouth.
Hadn’t I just come from the glistening promise of heaven, a world washed clean? Now here I was walking my little bits of purity through the present reality of a very dirty world.
My personality is such that these things affected me. A preoccupied mind on Barbara looks a lot like moodiness and general irritability. Lord bless the family of the artist!
So, I was a pill for the rest of the day and my husband decided to take us all to the beach, the two not being unrelated. He knows how to handle my moods and doses me with beauty and nature until the symptoms of my philosophical malaise abate.
So there I found myself, sitting on the dunes of Ocean Beach watching a long line of fog obscure the transition in hue between sea and sky.
Have I mentioned that I was a biology major?
I know it seems unlikely, but it happens to be a bachelor’s of art. My husband likes to tease that only I could get an arts degree in a science. And he might very well be right, so there.
At any rate, as I was walking along the frigid beach I remembered my ecosystems class and specifically the bit about the intertidal region. The beach and tide pools had always seemed so peaceful to me. I remember being surprised at realizing how treacherous life there was, covered in water at high tide, baked in the sun at low tide, every day, four times a day, living in extremes.
I saw the evidence of this as I walked the line of highest tide, where no greater wave would come to clear away the broken pieces of half masticated crab or the clear gelatinous drops that had once been jellyfish. There were shards of shells, broken sand dollars, parts of seaweed, feathers, and driftwood, the detritus of another world. Even the sand beneath my feet was a finely ground testament to the wearing power of persistence.
And God stroked my hair and put the image cupped in front of my eyes. This is where you live, Barbara, the harsh intertidal region between worlds. Heaven may be like the still deep ocean. Earth may be the rough baked rock. And the Christian walking this world in hopes of another suffers the rub of one against the other.
Yesterday was Easter Sunday. Church bells pealed welcome all over the city to believers of all languages to declare the same God, and him risen. It was also 4-20-14 and a giant pot celebration was happening in Golden Gate Park. This is where I live.
Last biology lesson:
Do you know how a barnacle feeds? He opens his little door and reaches out a wispy foot into the water to catch the plankton floating by. And when the tide goes low and leaves the barnacle exposed he tucks his foot back in and closes his doors, now self-contained with enough water to make it until the sea comes back.
And so we live, buffeted without, tucked in with sufficient water, maybe, waiting in faith that the sea will come again.