(I wrote this late Sunday night, but Typepad was down.)
When I was a young woman who did not appreciate her parents, I used to say rather snottily that rather than being religious, they worshipped at the Altar of Politeness.
In that culture and time, I felt far too much emphasis was placed on the kind of stationery used for particular occasions, and while I still love the feel of a nice stiff card from Crane, and I in fact have two boxes of them at home, I feel I am somewhat past the tendency to turn the invitation over to see if it is actually engraved, a skill passed along from mother to daughter in all the best families.
In a favorite moment in “My Fair Lady,” Eliza says to Professor Higgins’ mother:
I shall always be a common flower girl to Professor Higgins, because he always treats me like a common flower girl, and always will. But I know that I shall always be a lady to Colonel Pickering, because he always treats me like a lady, and always will.
Higgins later points out that he treats “a duchess like a common flower girl.” In Shaw’s Pygmalion, he elaborates:
The great secret, Eliza, is not having bad manners or good manners or any other particular sort of manners, but having the same manner for all human souls: in short, behaving as if you were in Heaven, where there are no third-class carriages, and one soul is as good as another.
This morning I preached from Revelation 21:1-6a. Isn’t that the New Jerusalem, where there are no third-class carriages?
In City By the Sea, when I chat up the mother and baby ahead of me in line, I am an anomaly. But here in the South Deeper than my Home Commonwealth, everyone does it. You go to visit people whose houses filled up with water from the Bayou, and they fix you a sandwich and worry about whether the cranberry cider is hot enough. If you want to experience the Ministry of Hospitality, it is here.
Wasn’t I supposed to come and minister to them? The sound of their lovely accents is a healing ministry.
This morning I preached to about 40 people, mostly older, but including a large crowd of children. A little brother and sister shared the acolyte duties. I followed them up the aisle wondering if fire might follow hurricane and wondering if it was really a good idea to let Sister carry a lit thing twice her height. Brother helped her, nearly leaving his water bottle behind on the altar. The response to the children in this small congregation was warm and encouraging, and I began to wonder if a few of my friends at Small Church would notice our children more if they were carrying flame up and down the aisle?
I’ve been out to see the damage and visited Mr. Casserole’s tabby concrete steps to nowhere. I’ve seen the shells of churches washed mostly away, on two foggy afternoons in which everything along the coast seems ghostly, especially the Treasure Bay casino barge. I’ve teared up at the sight of a child’s little brown shoe near a pile of debris. I feel much as I did in CPE, trying to figure out how to walk into a room where there has been a death, to enter the inner sanctum of loss and devastation knowing that my tender response to these sights and sounds and smells, while painful for me, allows me to be truly present to those whose stories I hear.
Then I return to the home of St. Casserole, and the fellowship of kindred minds, which is like to that above, and the amusing antics of ginger kittens and a fawn puppy, and the kindness of Mr. C who went out into the rain to find ice cream for too (two?) tired RevGals, who may need to regain their strength for further shopping as well as pastoring.
Good night, and Happy New Year, y’all. Remember, there are no third-class carriages in heaven.