We left the house and I locked the door and it was early, at least for a Sunday: 9:00am on the first truly cold morning of autumn. I pushed Leo’s stroller and the other four kids trailed behind, like ducklings. The wind snatched at our coats. The leaves and the litter blew across James Street and crunched under our feet.
Eric doesn’t sit on his porch anymore, not when it’s this cold. This is the first winter that Mr. Paul is no longer with us, so his porch is empty, too. I didn’t see anyone walking Barb’s dogs. We made it one entire block on James Street, and the only person we saw was a young man emptying out an apartment, piling all the furniture like trash into the back of a trailer. Besides that, James Street was asleep.
It’s six blocks from our house to church, and some of those blocks were in the warm sun and some of those blocks were in the shadows, like the dark side of the moon. We pulled our hands inside our coat sleeves and lifted our shoulders. When we passed the library we were almost there.
We walked into Saint James Episcopal Church and slowed down in the warmth. I took a program and the kids picked a pew to sit in and we took breaths that came and went like sighs. The air in there was still and serene, like walking through thick woods and stumbling into a wide open place.
“Dad,” whispered Abra, “which one is your favorite?” And so the five of us (Maile was with Leo in the nursery) let our eyes taste each of the stained-glass windows, like we do almost every Sunday morning.
“I like the one with the angel,” Sam said.
“I like the blue one, at the top, in the middle,” Cade said. Lucy and Abra each picked their favorite window.
“What about you, Dad?” Abra insisted.
“That’s the one for me,” I said, pointing at one that shimmered white, the sun shining straight through it.
“Yeah, I like that one best, too,” Abra said, because she always changed her mind to choose the one I liked most.
There’s something about sitting in a warm church after a long walk through the cold. There’s something about the way the light shines through white stained glass. There’s something about that opening hymn, when the choir proceeds down the aisle and the priests line up and Reverend Lauren says in her clear voice,
“Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,”
and all the rest of us say in voices silver-lined with hope,
“And blessed be his kingdom, now and for ever. Amen.”
Blessed be his kingdom. Not just today but on and on for as long as on-and-on goes. So be it.
That’s it, I guess. That’s why we walk six blocks through the cold. Can we believe that the Kingdom of God can somehow overcome the violence in our city, the injustice in our country, ISIS, or, even more tangibly, the darkness in my own heart? Can we somehow believe that the terrors and the sadness of this world do not have the final say? That each of us, in our own place, on our own streets, can somehow usher in this upside-down kingdom, where the last shall be first and the first last, where it’s not by wealth or by power or by making boisterous claims that we inherit everything of true value, but by being poor in spirit? Where those who hunger and thirst are finally filled?
Most days, I don’t know. Most days, it seems the evil and the ignorance is winning. Most days it seems like the corrupt businessmen and the blowhard politicians have everything going for them. But then there are brief moments, when we’re choosing our favorite stained glass window, or when Reverend Lauren’s voice first sounds out, or when we as a congregation say those words together, I can almost believe it.
Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.