Second Home

Twilight comes early these days. When choir practice ends on Wednesday evenings, we press the touch pad on the wall and full darkness descends, leaving the holy spaces heavy and silent, a comforting closeness that can only be found in vast spaces, beloved and intimately known.

There’s something about the feel of the church as  footsteps pad on wine-red carpeting, noiseless (or perhaps buried under the gleeful squeals of our children, who are well past their bedtime), that brings into the present a segment of my life that usually seems much more distant than five years.

I’ve always loved the church at night, when streetlights twinkle through stained glass, concealing and revealing images by turns. I spent hours there every day. I felt so at home there that during the summer I would run across from my office barefoot. And yet it wasn’t until nightfall that the cavernous space finally felt like mine. Because, although I worship in song, I touch God in silence and in solitude.

I think of stolen moments of quiet before rehearsals, when the world ended at the edge of the lights in the music area, and holiness pressed in from the darkness beyond. Of sound whispering back from darkened distance, echoing melodies only heard in my head until my fingers touched the white keys. Of incandescent globes gleaming in black lacquer.

We came to this church ten years ago, most unwillingly. Called to serve—that we didn’t doubt—but heartbroken to leave a community we loved. I missed the neutral walls and arena acoustics of our old home, which transformed every splash of color into a burst of glory. I missed the drums and guitars, the questing spirit. Two years, I told myself. I’ll serve the Church for two years. Then I’ll have babies, and we’ll go back home.

Only it was four years. And by the end of the first, we knew there was no going back. We had thought we knew what it meant to put down roots, but this community opened its arms and enveloped us. We found our own drums and guitars, our own questing spirits, and our roots grew deep among theirs.

I spent so much time there that I used to joke about moving a mattress in during Holy Week and Christmas. I watched two long, pale lines form on the burgundy carpet, pooling into great pinkish blobs before the sanctuary, as week by week, people came forward and paused with their children to receive the bread of life. I sang people into the Church, into married life, into Heaven. I hung greenery, arranged flowers and rice bowls, traded jokes with singers, bickered with sound personnel. I stumbled into offenses, apologized, hurt them again, apologized again. They grieved alongside us through infertility. They flooded us when Alex was born, and that was nothing compared to what we got when Julianna came along.

This is how I learned: The more you give of yourself, the deeper the roots go. The more of yourself you give away, the more comes back to you.

And although we don’t give nearly as much of ourselves as we once did, it’s enough. Today I stand before the choir on a chilly Sunday morning, conducting Bernadette Farrell’s poignant interpretation of Psalm 139, and the word “radiant” catches on the image of light coursing down upon an empty tomb. I flash back to another grace-filled moment, and I know that I will spend the rest of my life unpacking the messages delivered within these walls.


Linked to On, In and Around Mondays with L.L. Barkat.