Tuesday, February 28, 2006

coming home

The sun still spills in through the same east window—radiating across the white sanctuary—illuminating some, blinding others. The glowing faces are, for the most part, the same, albeit five years older. The passage of time is more apparent on some faces than others, however, particularly the once-children-now-youth we left behind on our way to a new job and a new life. The almost-maturity in their adolescent faces catches me off guard, and I look twice to be certain of their identity.

The faces behind the pulpits are also different—he is not here anymore—a fact that I had forgotten and which, had I remembered, would have spared me much anxiety this morning. The choir is still membered largely in the way I remember, the director having returned after “The Great Contemporary Versus Traditional Feud” two years after we left (not to be confused with “The Great Chairs Versus Pews War, which was before our time). Many faces are conspicuously absent—casualties of an all too common rift in the body when the last pastor was moved on and a new one brought in. As a result, there are more empty seats than usual, allowing us to slip into “our” old seats without disturbing any sacred seating chart, at least that we are aware of.

While others dutifully take in the morning’s message, I take in the scene around me. The faces of those who knew me when—friends I’ve known since kindergarten, families who fed me and slumber-partied me through high school, teachers who “always knew I’d do something with my life.” I take in the childish faces of those who are no longer children—my former children’s choir, our former Sunday school classes. My eyes travel to the cross, hand-hewn by my algebra teacher, and then to the baptismal font at which we stood with our daughter, nearly seven years ago. I regard the piano at which I sat for hours—alone, with the youth, in front of the congregation, in the presence of God. So much the same, and yet…

Coming home is always bittersweet for me. Change sneaks up on me, catches me unaware—like being out of state for several years and coming back to find that your kid sister has become a young woman—all is the same and yet everything is different. There are glimpses of familiarity in her face—your grandmother’s nose, your father’s eyes, your mother’s hair color (was that her original hair color?)—but she is not the child you left behind. Until she speaks, that is, and her voice reveals all that is unchanged.

Hymns do this for me. The church opens its mouth and speaks and the voice is still the same as it was when I was 5, 15, 25. Far from being antiquated, they are my touchstone—my eternal homecoming, no matter where I am. We open the hymnal and I close my eyes and I sing my father’s favorite hymn next to my father and I have come home. I sing at the top of my lungs from the bottom of my heart, and all that was upside-down is put right-side-up again.

The sun has shifted now—no longer does the left side of the congregation squint into the pulpit. Warmth still glows on the faces around me, however, and I cannot help but smile in return. Familiarity does not breed contempt—it breeds comfort. Melodies and memories stir within—speaking both to where I came from and to where I’m going. There will come a time when this place, these people, this body will no longer be home to me and my family. The change is inevitable. But as long as I can take my hymnal with me, I think I will be okay with that.


Cynthia said...

bitter sweet.

amy said...

I concur. But what if he would have still been there? Would it still be home?

lorie said...

Good question, Amy... one that took some consideration... and, yes, it would still have been home, because what makes it home (and did even then) had nothing to do with him, fortunately. He simply made it less comfortable to BE home when he WAS there-- like a sibling you're not speaking to, or something like that. Thanks for causing me to pause and think about it!

amy said...

You're welcome! I think that you and I have perhaps had a similar sort of experience (from what I can gather from the broad strokes that you painted for us, obviously the details are probably very different. Interestingly, I'm from NW Ohio as well), but it's interesting because I feel very differently about it than you do. The "he" in my situation is still there--always has been there-- and over the years has turned the church I grew up in into a place I will never set foot in again and that church family into a group I never want to see again. I feel like I had to divorce this family to save my life. I'm glad that you still have that home to go back to when you want to.

lorie said...

Don't mistake me, Amy. Having been gone for five years has allowed me to not have to divorce the entire family, just the individual. Were we still living there, the story would be different. We were considering a very difficult leaving when God gave us a much easier out. These types of situations are excruciatingly difficult. I am sorry to hear you have had one of your own, and what it has cost you.

If I recall from one of your posts, you are from BG? I grew up near Pburg- my house used to be where the "new" interchange is that connects the turnpike to I75. There is a BP there now- THAT will be confusing to our kids! "Mommy grew up at the BP?"