We had begun the service by hauling the pews up, front and center. Sweeping. Killing the wasps. Chasing out the flies. Strange flies, with zebra wings. One of the windows had been shot out again, but someone had already cleaned up the glass before I even got there.
Such preparation is a liturgy all its own. It was late afternoon. The sun slanted in the windows. The candles on the altar were the only other light. Except in the eyes of the children. The prophet came alive and the great waters and danger and comfort of a powerful God lapped against the walls of the building, especially where the unmown grasses stood so tall. The grandmothers and mothers looked away from their own hands when Paul's letter was read --that part when he acknowledged how much they had suffered. And then the coin. Jesus and the coin.
Someone had a coin in their pocket. All the children saw the face on the coin. How did Jesus know there was a face on this coin... a face that belongs with the history of the Nation. So the coin belongs to the Nation; give it to the Nation. When I made the other older boy stand up, the one not quite old enough to read, I asked who owned this face... who owned this heart... who... . So, the coin we can spend on food, electricity (except there was none here), taxes... --all that kind of stuff. What shall we 'spend' our God-given lives on?
The children answered with all those things they find so difficult to do --be nice, share, give up your place in line.... The adults didn't answer. Not with words, anyway. But with those longing looks of absence. Lips parted with those unspoken things, the ghosts of remembrance.
On the way home, while we were still on the gravel road and we could see the highway a few miles off, we saw the flashing lights of the police car racing west. 'That's not good,' Joel said. 'Never good,' I said. After we had turned on to the highway ourselves, heading east back to town, we pulled on to the shoulder of the road as the ambulance passed. 'That's not good,' I said. 'Never good, and Sunday night, too,' Joel said. And we prayed silently.
It's so different on the highway. Joel had never been the 'back way' from Thunder Butte to Bear Creek. It's a road that turns from gravel, to dirt, to tracks along fence lines separating fields. Then you suddenly find yourself perched on the grass-feathered crest of the plains before dropping in to the hidden ravine of Bear Creek.
And now the steady stromm of the tires on the asphalt played the tune of enticing promises of false security, of the advances of civilization... of a coin with a face that looked nothing like their faces --a face carved in to their sacred mountain, a face desecrating their Holy of Holies. And the evening took its foothold in the growing shadows, covering the carcasses of the wild things on the edge of the asphalt with a deep darkness --so different from the crest of the plain.
'How shall we spend our lives?' I had asked, and was answered in the playful yet seriously earnest movements of the three children who had stood right in front of the altar, mimicking my every gesture, calling down the Holy Spirit.
At prayer this morning (beginning at Ecclesiasticus 4:20)
Watch for the opportune time, and beware of evil,Or... (In a different translation... same scripture but called Sirach 4:20)
and do not be ashamed to be yourself.
For there is shame that leads to sin,
and there is shame that is glory and favor.
Do not show partiality to your own harm,
or deference to your downfall.
Do not refrain from speaking at the proper moment,
and do not hide your wisdom.
For wisdom becomes known through speech,
and education through the words of the tongue.
Never speak against the truth,
but be ashamed of your ignorance.
Do not be ashamed to confess your sins,
and do not try to stop the current of a river.
Take advantage of opportunities,There we are.
but guard yourself against evil.
Don't underrate yourself.
Humbleness deserves honor and respect,
but a low opinion of yourself leads to sin.
Do not let others have their way at your expense;
do not bring on your own ruin by giving up your own self.
Never hesitate to speak out when the occasion calls for it.
Don't hide your wisdom.
Your wisdom and what you know can be known only by what you say.
Do not, however, go against the truth,
and remember that you do not know everything.
Don't be ashamed to confess your sins;
there's no point in trying to stop a river from flowing.
....(The Summer Day, Mary Oliver)
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
--how shall we spend our lives.... ?