Sunday, December 26, 2010

the perfect day for a blizzard.

The fireplace at The Cranbury Inn during the Blizzard of December 26th, 2010. 

"Fear not. There is light in the darkness."
- Suzanne Schafer-Coates

My Dad has been playing piano in the Presbyterian Church at the same lovely retirement home in our town of New Jersey for over 20 years now. And so last night when he asked me if I were coming to church this morning, naturally I said "Yes." I almost always come when I am home.

And truthfully, I love to hear my father play piano -- he is truly rhapsodic. He fashions a song as only he can -- with jazzy riffs and never neglecting the higher chords, which his fingers always include in a song. In fact, whenever I picture him playing, I picture his rather compact hands deftly stretching across the keyboard towards the high keys as they lift up the song and give it a sort of bursting, exciting, the walls are singing too! sound.

But sermon-wise, I just -- I'm a still a touch off from my stomach virus and I don't particularly feel "filled up" by sermons -- ever since I was little -- but I shall go. I love my Dad and I have known this church since I was little and I shall go...

And as the snow began to dust the roads, I made my way towards the church in the home. My town is so small that two roads got me there. 

 I collected a program from an elderly woman -- after all, this is not a youthful crowd in the retirement home -- and made my way to the second row of chairs, right behind my Dad. To my right, I saw a scoop of young people -- three young women and a mom, and a middle-aged man behind them. This perked me up! Honestly, all of the white heads in the church begin to look like a mass of q-tips as your eyes glaze over with the candle lights and the Christmas tree and the poinsettias. Well, to begin with, the minister -- Suzanne Schafer-Coates sang a song, a Jamaican Christmas song my Mom always requested from a church friend when she was sick. It's called, Mary's Boy Child. And so, immediately, I was hooked. My eyes even watered a little. This brought me back. And knowing that my Dad and Suzanne had chosen this song and mentioned Ron Anderson who would play it on his banjo, I think, brought me directly back to my youth. Like a roller coaster that within seconds has you shoved up onto the top of a mountain, I was shoved up into my youth. And it was beautiful. My Dad flaked off in a part of the song and I saw him make a funny face at the piano and that made the whole thing even better -- it was honest. Imperfect, clipped, and it reminded me of the Navajo Tribe. I've mentioned them in blogs of the past -- they always put an indentation in their jewelry because they believed that only God could make things perfectly. And so did my Dad apparently, this morning.

So... Then, these two sisters sang a duet. And they harmonized perfectly, seemingly effortlessly. I adored their voices. One of them reminded me of my former producing partner of Little Bird Theater Company and that also brought a smile to my face.

There were a few minor readings from the elder who was there from the other downtown Presbyterian Church and some Christmas songs and then, the sermon. Once again, I have learned to expect nothing. In fact, when I was little and forced to go to the church with my sister, we'd pass notes on the offertory envelopes. Over my mom's lap. Little beasts we were. And then, when I was old enough to really think about what I was saying, say 12 years old -- I bucked against the system.

I was so turned off of all of the "please forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us" stuff. And I know I sound petulant when I say "stuff," but alas, that's what it felt like to me. A whole lot of unnecessary stuff. Where was the God who was forgiving? And if this God truly forgave us for erring because we are human, then why are we constantly apologizing? I found myself whispering the words of constant self-deprecation and ultimately, I stopped saying them altogether. 

And in the past few years, I have happily studying Kabbalah.  I found no apologizing, merely methods of bettering myself. And if I fall, which I always assuredly do, I pick myself up and move on. It felt simple, forgiving, practical.

The memories of my childhood church years have warmed me. I've mentioned them in my memoir. And whenever I sip on sugary tea, whenever I hear a church hymn, whenever I think of Sundays as a child, I think happily of our downtown Presbyterian Church.

Today though, I just thought of the promise of a one hour service, hearing my father's music and the lovely snow, which I have longed for in California.

But, when Suzanne -- whose two oldest children I once babysat -- began her sermon intimately and simply, speaking of her youth... When she was a 25 year-old young woman in York, England, alone and broke and freezing cold, scared on Christmas -- away from her family, unable to go home, I was there. I was in the story. I wanted to hear more.

She spoke of how she lived in a house the church was tying to sell. But until they did, it was hers. No heat, the toilet was in the backyard, and it was dark. She sang in the choir and even the church was absolutely freezing!

She said that singing the old Christmas hymns made her happy, but when it came time for Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, she cried. She longed for home.

Then, she said she began to look at the candles in the church and focus on their light. How they lit up the room and she imagined the warmth they were giving off.

She heard the words, the ones the minister spoke from the sermon, words she'd heard countless times before, Fear Not. There is Light in the Darkness.

And for the first time ever, she got them. She understood what it meant. And she felt the light. And it guided her. Out of the darkness.

And this is what we study in Kabbalah. That light always pierces through the darkness. That we ARE the light that pierces through the darkness -- or rather -- the light is what we trust -- what is always there for us. Never abandoning us. Even when we feel like it is. Even when we curse it and step on it and spit at it and want to twist the lifeless life out of it. It is there. 

And this is exactly what Suzanne was preaching about today. That the light was there for her. And I love the double meaning of "light." Both the physical light, which literally warms and brightens us up. And the spiritual/figurative light, which warms (with its "Aha, I am being watched over!" moment) and and brightens us up (with the knowledge we gain that yes, we are not alone.)

And I think that when Suzanne was telling her story, we all felt less alone. I love that feeling of all religions, all spiritualities being one. Because they are. We are. We've all been that 25 girl alone in that house in England -- even if we are a 28 year-old man in Seattle or a 50 year-old woman in Germany or a 71 man in Pennsylvania. We have all been there. All done that.

And by sharing her story, Suzanne brought the story of Christmas to all of us in that little church in that lovely retirement home. She brought the hope that is Christmas, that stubborn faith that we are all risen again, that if we believe, we too can have new life.

Our courage liberates others. I once thought that seeming a certain way was the way to go as an actress. I took time off from acting - a few years -- and when I stepped back in, I had trepidation. And so, I thought -- be this way. Do this. And they will love you.

And the thing is... only when I had the courage to be vulnerable, to trust my gut, to be absolutely and utterly Kieren van den Blink -- was I truly embraced. And believed in. And what I mean when I say -- "utterly Kieren van den Blink" is that only when I brought me to the part -- my quirks and depths and comedy, and in meetings when I was honest, only then did I win.

Today, when Suzanne said, "Fear Not. There is Light in the Darkness," she spoke of her dark moments and those candles in the church, they gave her light and then hope and then, she believed. 

I've been acquainted with the night... As the Robert Frost poem goes:

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain -- and back in rain. 
I have outwalked the furthest city light. 
I have looked down the saddest city lane. 
I have passed by the watchman on his beat 
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain. 
I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet 
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street, 
But not to call me back or say good-bye; 
And further still at an unearthly height, 
O luminary clock against the sky 
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right. 
I have been one acquainted with the night. 

And I can tell each and every one of my beloved blades of grass, there is indeed... Light in the Darkness.

And I'll let Van Morrison sing the rest to you as only he can... :)

Love... Always. Happy Holidays, my beloved blades.


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