A little solace would be swell


The weekend had barely begun when the kids called to say their Sunday would be pretty hectic: out-of-town visitors arriving, golf practice for one of the grandgirls and a science project for the other, an expense account due Monday morning from Mom and a Monday morning flight for Dad, plus shopping and some prep work for Thanksgiving. So the four of them would attend a service late that afternoon and did we want to join them? Well, We couldn’t because She had some kind of charity event, but I could, would and did.

A little solace would be swell, I thought, standing at the rear of the sanctuary, searching for my clan among the scores, hundreds of parishioners who evidently believed they needed a little solace, a little lift, too. I’d been fighting my way through the news cycle: the sour grapes and recriminations of Republicans still reeling from the presidential election a fortnight past, as well as the days’ new, dire warnings of impending doom from devoted, newly-refreshed doomsayers; the lingering delight of Arkansas Republicans for having won both chambers of the General Assembly, and the uncertainty of their Democratic counterparts; the approaching “fiscal cliff” and the breathtaking gulf between the nation’s wealthy and the next lower rung. That sort of stuff.

There had been another swine slaughter that very afternoon, a 31-point massacre by Mississippi State, so for those who lose sleep over bowl possibilities vaporized it had been a dismal day, and maybe some of the faithful needed their faith renewed. On the other hand, congregants of the St. Louis Diocese of The One True Church had been warmed by word that Rafael Furcal’s shortstop elbow was healing as prayed for, almost certainly Bing Divine intervention, a gift to the College of Cardinals.

A single monsignor coached our dugout.

And I’ll be d-, uh, doggoned if the first hymn he announced seemed chosen especially to transport me back to the news flow.

Jerusalem, my happy home,

When shall I come to thee?

When shall my sorrows have an end?

Thy joys when shall I see?

O happy harbor of the saints!

O sweet and pleasant soil!

In thee no sorrow may be found,

No grief, no care, no toil.

We’re singing less than 24 hours after Hamas, the ruling Palestinian faction in Gaza, attacked Jerusalem for the first time, using rockets of range and sophistication it had previously never deployed. Jerusalem, claimed by all three Abrahamic faiths.

In thee no sickness may be seen,

No hurt, no ache, no sore;

There is no death nor ugly devil,

There is life for evermore.

Aye, my sweet home, Jerusalem,

Would God I were in thee:

Would God my woes were at an end,

Thy joys that I might see.

Other towns and settlements in southern Israel had been targeted as well. Israel, of course, retaliated, making smoke and debris of its enemies in an already impoverished slice of desert. The death toll began to mount. The international community rushed in to condemn both sides.

[begin ital]We sigh and sob, we weep and wail,

Perpetually we groan. [end ital]

It was All Saints Day, so the altar was covered with framed photographs, large and small, of men and women, and children, no longer among the living. Most of them, it stands to reason, died of old age and the infirmities that can accompany it. The younger faces, we may assume, were claimed by accident or illness, the crueler for the days denied. Few, blessedly few, were claimed in anger, in the name of ancient feuds or in transnational disputes; most lives, here, are not cut short by rockets or bullets or bombs.

The homily dealt with Thanksgiving. Naturally, appropriately.

The closing hymn was God of Day and God of Darkness.

Still the nations curse the darkness,

still the rich oppress the poor.

Still the earth is bruised and broken

by the ones who still want more.

Give us all your love of justice,

so we do what you would do.

Let us call all people holy.

Let us pledge our lives anew.

Make us one with all the lowly.

Let us all be one in you.

Shining deep within all people,

yours the love that we must learn.

At the end of the service my youngest grand, not yet so grown up that she is embarrassed to be seen with me, or, for that matter, her parents — she took my hand to remind me (needlessly) that we were having Thanksgiving dinner at her house.

“You and M’Amie are coming, aren’t you?”

Yes, I said.

• • •

Steve Barnes is host of Arkansas Week on AETN.