At Church

A Quandary

Thursday Morning, 10:15 a.m.

My Grande Nonfat, No Whip Mocha has cooled.

I want to microwave it.

Between my office and the kitchen a large 12-step group is meeting.

There is a way around, and they are screened off for privacy.

But the kitchen end is not screened off.

And this group is Food Addicts Anonymous.

I contemplate the scone crumbs on my desk.

I decide to wait.

At Church

Bare Toes and Pink Dress

Two brides awaited me in the church parlor while snow flew past the windows and began to coat the parking lot. Alike in their straight black hair and warm brown skin, they differ in their dress for a special day. Polly, born in America, dresses nicely in white skirt and blue top, bare toes in high-heeled sandals. Polly goes to college, and has a cellphone and e-mail. She will marry a young man who wears a suit and carries a briefcase, a young man who keeps charge of all the paperwork and gives her a ring half-hooped with diamonds.

Sokhoun just arrived here. She wears a long pink dress, meant for a prom of many years ago, chosen by an aunt or a future mother-in-law. She does not speak our language; I had Polly read the ceremony to her and explain the promises she would be making to Polly's brother, Sam.

18 months ago the family traveled to Cambodia to arrange two marriages. A large crowd of friends and relatives attended an engagement ceremony. Finally Sokhoun and Polly's future husband, Sokuntha, have been able to come to this country. In the chancel we gather, nine of us, to solemnize their marriages.

The shy girl in a pink dress stands next to me, holding flowers from the grocery store. I wonder what she thinks of Sam, who looks as American as his younger sister. Many years ago their parents married at this church, and they think of it as some extension of their family. When Sam answers "I will," she says it, too, before I have asked her, and then she smiles, her mouth a sliver of joy becoming palpable, and suddenly I no longer worry about whether this wedding, these weddings, ought to happen today.

I don't like weddings much. Too often the bride and groom concern themselves more with reception plans than vows.

But on this snowy morning we seal a compact between families and between souls.

I think about my father and wonder who he would have picked for me if he could have arranged my marriage? What old-fashioned lady would have been the Yente of Jane Austen's Village, what hat-and-glove-wearing doyenne with chemically arranged curls? What sort of man would have been matched with me? Eccentric and interior? Grounded and reliable? Well-groomed and successful?

A tiny bride in a pink dress seems incredibly brave to me as I ponder the words we read from Ruth. Yes, their people are the same, I suppose, but their countries are not; their worlds are not. Who did she trust so much that she would make this journey to a place where she must depend on others to speak for her?
Her American groom slides a plain gold band onto her slender finger, and she responds in kind.

It is time for the kiss, the kisses, and I watch the two couples realize what they have done. Polly says, "In front of everyone?" (I wonder what married life will be like for her polite and neatly dressed husband.) But her new sister-in-law smiles joyfully again as Sam leans over and kisses her cheek, the tiny bride in a pink dress.

At Church

Hen and Chicks

At 9:30, my office fills with children. The fairly large room feels full, really, and they move about and interweave, and I wonder which older sister belongs to which younger brother. Five cousins, a set of twins, a little brother and one singleton all wait to learn their parts in our communion liturgy.

I do not know these children, with one exception. One chick belongs to me, really, and I watch her sitting removed but not remote, elegant in wool skirt and sparkly scarf and long-sleeved black skinny tee. Contained, she seems contained, to her own satisfaction.

I try to learn their names, but they swarm about, and they look alike, most of them. I distribute their parts, and we rehearse. Now I begin to see their differences, their distinctiveness, although they insist on moving around the room even as we read.

They follow me across the breezeway into the sanctuary, and I guide them to the pews where they will sit during church. We wait for the choir to finish, wait for our turn to practice our parts in leading worship. Two little boys sit three rows back. I join them. I know they are cousins. I know one has an older sister, and the other has two older sisters, and I search their faces for the resemblances that will solve this brain-teaser.

We move to the Communion table and try the hand-held microphone. They circle the table, stand too close to me and to each other, pass the microphone around, talk too fast or too slowly, and then we try it again. They suggest lining up in order and they learn who comes next by watching, and they get it right.

Most run off to choir practice, then return just as worship begins. They fill two pews, happily, moms and grandparents close behind or far away, beaming.

We sing "Jesus Loves Me," and as the third verse begins, they flock to me, arranging themselves just so, within my wingspread, my beautiful chicks.