At the Smiling of the River
My husband once teased me that I was a lousy protestant. It was because I didn't know the hymn "He Sees the Little Sparrow Fall."
I grew up in an Anglican world full of cassocks, confirmation, and choirs. Every week, while singing such songs as "Praise to the Holiest in the Heights," my community watched our officiants process behind the cross, take their places, and conduct our service. Accompanied by "Wherefore O Father," my community approached the rail in front of the altar and shared the bread and the wine, pulsating with the power of such togetherness. I was happy there, ticking off the little "protestant" box on the various forms one fills out throughout one's youth, ignorant of the nature of the stream of protestantism that existed outside my cozy, ritualized, sacramental world.
Then I stumbled into that stream. I was chasing something, and that's where I landed. Every life choice I made drew me further into a reality where mercies were no longer "manifold and great" but rather "new every morning;" where familiar terms like "Confirmation Retreat" and "Primate's World Relief and Development Fund" were replaced by "Daily Vacation Bible School" and "Missionary Week."
Somewhere in the middle of that journey, contentedly engaging with a community that sang contemporary praise songs with great enthusiasm, my friend Larry wondered in passing why we never sang hymns in our services. "Hymns," I thought. I pictured our enthusiastic crowd belting out the dramatic stanza Rank on rank the host of heaven spreads its vanguard on the way. "Sure. That would be nice."
And then I attended a Guy Penrod concert with my friend Delores. Delores is also among the enthusiastic contemporary praise song singing crowd. I knew who Guy Penrod was. Over the years his name had come up, always spoken as if his existence on the planet were a given, like gravity. The concert was organized by a group that Larry would have been very familiar with: a bunch of Baptists in a small Ontario town. Before the concert, a woman led the audience in a hymn sing. In the middle of "I Come to the Garden Alone," I whispered to Delores, "I don't know any of these." Delores whispered back, "These are the hymns I grew up with."
That was when I understood that when Larry wanted hymns, he wasn't talking about "Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silence." He was talking about "Shall we Gather at the River." It was at that moment that I woke up, looked around me, and realized that I had somehow ended up in a world that was foreign to me. It still is.
But by then it didn't matter. By the time I could even begin to be aware that there may be a sense of "other" in my journey of faith, it was too late. I loved. With all those church potlucks and monthly communions, I had shared so many meals with my fellow travelers that we were all in it together now. We can now only ever be co-communicants. Love is what got me into this foreign culture. Communal meals set the relationships in stone. Love will keep me here.