Monday, April 7, 2014

Letter to Cianya: A Sunday School Stroll to Church St.

On Sunday, I was on for teaching the older children in Sunday School.  "Children" was actually one child, my grandaughter.  Of the three plans I'd prepped, I took the fourth.  It was one of the first beautiful days of our Spring Season.  It was warm!  So I decided to pick up on the blurb that always leads off our Sunday bulletin and see if we could deconstruct its meaning.  It didn't hurt that Mike, our pastor, used the story of Ezekiel and the dry bones as the context of his children's story.  Cianya and I had one of those magical moments in time for our thirty minute walk up Cherry St.  By the time we'd returned I'd resolved to write her a note recalling our stroll, as much for myself as for her.  Here it is.

Dear Cianya,

Today's Bulletin Blurb:  Today’s prophets must linger in the valley long enough to recognize the futility of human efforts.  The task of the church is to admit to the world that our redemption has never come by denominational decision, political platform, or common convention.  Our revitalization is spoken in the word of God.  Joy J. Moore

Redemption = forgiveness or salvation, theologically speaking

Today's Scripture:  Ezekiel 37: 1-14.  The dry bones.  God’s promise to Ezekiel that he will rescue the Jews in the same way he breathed muscle, sinew, skin, and new life into the dry bones.  Mike did this with the kids and we all sang the song.

Being one of the first beautiful and warm Sundays of 2014, we went outside into the warm sunshine.  You loved the warmth on the rocks.  There, we talked about what a prophet is, low places and high places, “the word of God,” God’s promise to Ezekiel, the relationship he had personally with his people.  You noted that a prophet is a person who makes promises for the future; I noted a prophet is kind of like the people we call futurists today.

So we resolved to walk up the hill towards Church St. looking for low places and high places. 

At first, we thought about these low and high places geographically, hills and valleys.  We talked a little about low places being a metaphor for being in a bad place, dark, dangerous even, depressed.  (You knew about “depression” because of the conversations we’d had when you and Ana did your school presentation on The Great Depression!=.)  High places, in the Bible anyway, were generally places where God could be found or where people went to talk with God.

We saw lots of people walking, trampled brown grass, snow banks with their concentrated filth, felt the bright warmth on our faces, and noted how the sunshine lifted our spirits.  I wondered out loud about these things, whether or not they might be considered low or high.  We decided to purposefully smile and say hello to people coming towards us as a way of creating the good feelings of a greeting and a smile (hospitality).  At least one of each of the two couples that passed us smiled, grinned actually, and returned the greetings.  That made us feel good (grace).

We then stopped as we were approaching the tablet below the big bell at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and counted all the church steeples we could see from that vantage point:  five or six – First Congregational, United Methodist, Ira Allen, the Cathedral, and the Baptist Church, and St. Paul’s, the church we’d just left.  We read the tablet, looked at the pictures, saw Ed Granai in one of the pictures that showed the founding members of the Italian Culture Society, a group that had formed a decade or two ago to reaffirm the important role Italians had in forming 20th Century Vermont and the role they took in that particular parish.  We read about the Cathedral and how it was set afire by an arsonist in 1973.  We noted that the steeples were obvious reminders of the presence of high places (God, really) in the heart of our downtown. 

Then we got to Church St.  A tall, older man wearing bright yellow parka, large dark, black sunglasses and a ski hat was waiting on the edge of the intersection of Church St. and Cherry St. next to a collection of boxes and one table, all painted black.  He saw us looking and re-counting the steeples and asked us what we were doing.  He, too, pointed out the steeples, especially the one from the Baptist Church which he noted was “his Church.”  We told him we were on a walk from our Church and were thinking about where we might locate low places and high places in the midst of the “city.”  He thought for a brief moment, then pointed at City Sports and one other business, and said, “I suppose they could be either low places or high places.  Depends how you look at it.”  And that comment flipped our thinking and I think, Cianya, you and I both had the same thought at the same time.  Whether a place was low or high really depended on how you perceived that moment.  You could bring meaning to any place or situation, and if God truly inhabits our hearts, all we have to do is all forth who God would have us be to make any (any???) place a high place.  Although we didn’t say this at the time, I wonder if that’s what it means to “live humbly with your God.” 

Then a station wagon pulled up, a much younger man got out, and together, he and the older man started to load up the car with the boxes and table.  You immediately recognized the younger man as the Street Performer of Church St. and told me several stories of connections you’ve had with him.  We headed back to CCP, feeling somewhat changed, if not a little smug (well, me anyway) that we’d figured something out that might stay with us for quite a while.  You asked me if, no told me that even a funeral could be a high place for someone, depending on what they might be reminded of during the funeral.  Good thinking.  You were way ahead of me!

On the way back, across from Macy’s, we met a couple with a furry dog, the kind of dog with those light blue eyes. They asked us directions “to the park in the middle of town.”  After a moment of going back an forth, we figured out they meant City Hall Park. We told them to go back to Church St. turn night, etc., you were invited to pet the dog, who wagged at your touch, they expressed their appreciation for the directions and wished us good day!  Our little sojourn into low places, high places, and humble walking ended with you doing cartwheels and round-offs across the parking lot as we got back to church.  “The sunlight and warm air just makes me feel so Good!”

I safely tucked my notes into my hip pocket.  This was a set of moments I wanted to make sure got written down.  And so it is.


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