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ritual loyalty sacrifice

I fly through the aisles at the Bay, plucking everything off the shelf remotely Christmassy and sixty percent off. I have half an hour to find something before I get groceries, bake pies, clean the house and get my kid. I pull something pleasing over my hips, “yes, this will do”.unknown

To be honest, we’re quite exhausted this year. Why can’t I do what I used to do? I’m getting older…Scott has been pulling a lot of extra shifts and I’ve been doing a show. Today he worked until six while I wrapped the last of the presents and whipped up a rack of lamb dinner, dessert, and breakfast for tomorrow. He picked up our boy. We wolfed down the lamb (a bit to my despair – did anyone even notice the shallot wine reduction?) and rushed off to candlelight service. I really wasn’t sure we would make it on time.

St Andrews Wesley filled up fat and thick at Christmas because it’s one of the most beautiful heritage churches in Vancouver with spectacular glass windows, a quality choir, a pipe organ, and great preachers. This service was geared towards the family so the nativity was re-enacted with little kids dressed up as angels and sheep. My church typically asks the family with the youngest baby to be Mary and Joseph. This year it was a same sex couple with the baby Jesus: Mary and…Mary. Our three dignified ministers dressed up as shepherds and enjoyed mucky-mucking through the storyline as ruffians. It was all very sweet and fun.images-1

As usual, there was a terrific mix of humanity in the pews: the well heeled establishment, some artsy young families, some people perhaps from the Dug Out: a soup kitchen in the downtown east side our church has run for nearly forty years now. Our Syrian refugee family. A typically shy transgendered person donned a Christmas dress tonight and handed out the candles with uncommon exuberance: their face shone so bright it caught my breath. And during the final “silent night” a young woman in some kind of mental distress, rushed the altar and did a circle of awe and fright, as she stood in front of thousands of candles, in the centre of a holy moment, right up there with the ministers. And nobody was bothered. Dan just came up to her, put his arm around her, said a little private prayer while the rest of us sang. This somehow kept the little bird still and assured. She started to sing along. And at the end of the evening, Jen invited her to join the processional as though she were a guest speaker, walking down the aisle and out into the starry night. It was just so “of course” and “typical” of my church to have this eclectic mix completely at ease with each other. This is Christianity. If only the whole world was so “of course” and “typical”.

It took something to get here tonight. Everyone would have understood if we bowed out of any of our traditions. But we will have lamb. We will do candlelight service. We will have prawns and that silly red sauce dip. We will play Pictionary and tease Scott about his drawing. We will finish with pumpkin pie and home made egg nog. We will let the kids shake presents under the tree and have their time together, just the two, while the parents go volunteer for the midnight mass. Scott and I both believe in ritual, loyalty and sacrifice. These are the things that will keep our family together and generate deep joy.acebd488b4

As we pull on our boots to head to church again, our kids are high on sugar and anticipation. One of them is leaping around the house deeply immersed in character as some sort of monster frog, chasing the other. I see this flicker between them, this moment where they agree to take the risk to be little kids again. They drop the surliness of impending teen-hood, allowing their gangly pubescent limbs to flail about the house as they jump up on the sofa and give chase around the dining room table. We all get a bit giddy when this happens. The kids allow themselves to play, and the parents catch in the throat a bit, knowing these days are numbered.

We close the door on this happy chaos, hoping they don’t knock over the tree in our absence.

“It’s such a gift that our kids enjoy each other.” Scott nods and takes my arm over the icy part of the sidewalk. “Nice dress, Bella” he says, in a sly nod that actually means, “nice bosom”.

Back at church again, we are “greeters” at St Andrew’s Wesley united, downtown, for the midnight mass. They’ve put Scott at the front because he’s a big guy. Apparently last year it was so packed, they had to turn people away because of the fire code and some people got a bit rough. So, Scott is the next best thing to security.

As I stood there, in my sixty percent off dress, handing out candles and programs to person after person after person who came through the door I was astonished. It’s past eleven on Christmas eve and the place is packed. Everyone is coming to this thing. A big family with their little girls dressed in white sparkly dresses, their parents from China perhaps, don’t speak English. Tourists from Berlin. An Irish guy helps his aged mother through the door, She still dyes her hair a cheerful red. She brandishes her cane with a bit of joy, asking me if there’s still a seat for her, she made it up the stairs, after all! A rough and bearded man with sorry eyes loped his way in, coat in tatters. Oh, then actor friends of mine, a bit sheepish because the last time I saw them, they walked out of my show at intermission. I take some delight in how terribly uncomfortable they seem in front of me and give them a nice. big. fat. loving. Christmassy. l2oldd1hug. Have a candle you curmudgeons.

We are packed to the rafters but there is no brawl. After all the late comers are seated, Scott and I join the congregation and sing. It’s a stunning evening.

Just when I think that Christianity and all religious practice is a dying way of life…something calls out under the snow flakes, down the city alleys and suburban cul-de-sacs, through the fog of rum and eggnog…it rumbles like distant thunder under the stress of Visa bills, the headachy heaviness of loss, the frustration of misplaced expectations…some stars shine through the haze and guide us back to our human need for ritual, loyalty and sacrifice. It’s there. It’s in us. To gather together. To light the light. To pray for peace on Earth.unknown-2

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