Friday, January 12, 2007


It's bedtime and Jeff has finished reading two chapters of Charlotte's Web to Ryan and I come in as the closer, ready to turn out the lights and sing this boy to sleep.

Earlier in the evening, we had been talking about baptism, because I will get to assist with some on Sunday. Ryan wants to know what words I would say and what words Rev. Jim would say. I don't remember them exactly and my paraphrasings are not sufficient to satisfy Ryan. I tell him I'll look it up in the morning and tell him.

Now it's bedtime, and Ryan is talking about baptism again, but this time he says: What words did Rev. Jim say over me? And I think it's sweet that he feels so at home in our church and so METHODIST that he assumes Rev. Jim baptized him there. You were baptized at a different church, I tell Ryan. By who? I struggle to remember the monsingnor's name at Our Mother of Confidence Catholic Church, and I fail. I don't remember his name, I say. Only he's can baptize, right, Ryan asks. No, I say, women can baptize. Rev. Molly can baptize. And Ryan wants to know the names of the babies Rev. Molly has baptized. And Ryan asks again about the words. I'll look them up in my hymnal tomorrow, I tell him. And that leads to a discussion of what a hymnal is, which leads to a discussion of what a hymn is, which leads to the observation that hymn and him are homonyms -- something they're studying in his class. And that leads us to talk about hymns.

Sometimes at night, Ryan will ask for a "stranger song", by which he means a song he's never heard. I'm running out of songs I know by heart that he has never heard, so sometimes I draw on my hymn memory to sing something new. This night, he seems to be searching, instead, for a familiar song and he asks me to name all the hymns I have ever sung to him.

Sing the one where the lady talks about all the things she can do, he says.

I'm stumped, but I'm also pretty sure that he is not thinking of a hymn.

What kind of things can she do, I ask.

He thinks for a moment and says: things like drive a speed boat to an island.

I'm really stumped now.

But this turns out to be a red herring. In his near-sleep stupor he is melding together memories and this, as it turns out, is something he has remembered from an IMAX movie about Greece, which he pronounces Grace and proceeds to tell me about the volcano that erupted and covered the city so that the whole city was covered in lava rock. And he's right, that movie did have a speed boat going toward an island.

And then he thinks he has remembered the name of the song. It's called "Between My Daughters and I," he says.

And I cannot think of any song I know about a mother singing about her daughters and talking about all the things she can do. But it sounds like a good one, maybe someone should write it.

Ryan is now frustrated with me. You used to sing it to me all the time, he says, adding: Maybe your memory is not as good as mine.

So I ask what else the woman can do.

Again, his voice carries the sound of certain memory as he says: it's the one that says, "I'd sing about danger."

And, finally, I know which song he wants.

"If I Had a Hammer," you know the one, the one where the woman talks about hammering out JUSTICE, ringing out DANGER, and singing about the LOVE between her brothers and her sisters.

So I sing it, proud that a song I have always loved and simply thought I was subjecting my son to has made such an impression that he would go to such lengths to draw it from our collective memories.

And then I remember Christmas Eve morning and a moment of wonder. Ryan had insisted that he wanted to stay in Water's Edge for worship rather than go to children's church and Sunday school. And, after getting him to promise that he would not talk when Molly started talking -- during the sermon -- I let him stay. And, while he found several ways to misbehave before the sermon, true to his word he sits quietly in my lap while Molly preaches. She's talking about the Magnificat, Mary's song of wonder and joy after she has learned of the divinity of the child she will carry. Molly is noting that Mary speaks with confidence and certainty and in past tense. She knows and accepts the great things that God will do through her son. Mary sings of being part of something far larger than herself. Molly asks the congregation if we have ever felt that way. Have we ever had a sense of ourselves as part of something beyond ourselves, bigger than ourselves, part of God. One of her examples is of watching people come forward one night at Vespers for communion. Then, she asks us to share our own such moments. No one does. That's rare with sermon talk-back time, but it's both a challenging question and, perhaps, a difficult answer to put into words. So, she says, you don't have to tell me, but tell each other. She gives us some time to talk among ourselves. I quickly realize that the way folks around me are seated and have already turned, it's just me and Ryan. So I try to ask him Molly's question and he doesn't understand. So, I try to put it in words he might better understand. Finally, I have boiled the Magnifcat down to this: Has there ever been a time when you felt really close to God? Ryan doesn't answer. So I tell him that sometimes when I am singing hymns at the bedside of someone I'm visiting in a hospital, I feel closer to God. Do you ever feel closer to God, I ask. His answer melts my heart: I feel that way when you sing to me at night.

And that was just one of many gifts of the four Christmas Eve worships I attended or served in. One of the many gifts of a season of spiritual gifts all through Advent.

One of many Magnificats.


Marian said...

This made me cry. Really Beautiful.

Marian said...

Also, you can tell Ryan that Rev. Molly baptizes adults, too. :)

molly said...

You've just breated new Spirit-life into "If I had a Hammer" for me. What delight!!