Saturday, March 28, 2009

Taking Sunday back

Red-winged blackbirds were in a mellow mood just after sunrise last Sunday at Pin Oak Marsh. In a month or two, when nests and eggs, then chicks, are involved, they will turn into aggressive scarlet-patched dive bombers, but for now dozens were flitting from stalk to stalk singing their hearts out.

Frogs had emerged in the last week to break winter silence --- background music. Out on the pond, pairs of Canada geese honked as they sailed, flapping and hissing when strays trying to turn duos into trios moved too close, taking off and landing with much splashing.

Across Highway 14 west, flocks of pelicans had come in overnight for refuge on the smaller, calmer pond.

The all-weather path along the marsh’s big pond, leading to a platform over the water intended to leave the impression you’re sailing, is a good place to begin reclaiming Sunday.


The Decalogue, a fancy name for the Ten Commandments, has been part of the Lenten liturgy this season at St. Andrew’s and Grace.

“Hear the commandments of God to his people: I am the Lord your God who brought you out of bondage. You shall have no other gods but me. Amen. Lord have mercy.” And so on. Remember them?

I wonder how many of us can recite all 10 off the tops of our heads --- our get them in the right order. Not me for sure, unless I peek.

Some of the blame belongs to priests, preachers and theologians who have turned the commandments on their heads as centuries have passed, shifting the emphasis to the bad things that will happen to us (hell, for example) if we slip up, leaving only a sliver of light to illuminate the good things that might be expected if we obey.

Not that the penalty phase isn’t important, but too much fire and brimstone and too little grace seem to be having something other than the intended effect on humanity these days, mule-stubborn and cantankerous critters that we are. If you doubt that, spend a little time thinking about just what your gods are.

We all know about the Ten Commandments, most of us venerate them in an abstract sort of way. But obey? Get real.


I was designed to go to church, so you’d think that would give me an edge on the fourth commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” But somewhere along the road, Sunday slipped right out of my grip. I’ve been trying to grab it again.

The thing about the Ten Commandments is that they are for the most part just plain common sense, for Jew and Christian and non-Jew and non-Christian alike. Interpretations of “keep it holy” will differ, but we all need a little rest --- a whole Sabbath day or more --- and holy rest has become a rare commodity.

I lost my grip on Sundays even though I kept going to church most of the time when I started working daily newspaper schedules that demand weekend work far into the night, for many years Saturdays and Sundays; then just Saturdays.

When I stopped working Sundays, I started driving them instead --- three-plus hours south after an early service because I was needed here and when those who needed me were dead, because I needed to be here.

I also forgot how to relax, let go, move into holy silence and listen.


I went to church twice last weekend, Saturday evening at St. Andrew’s in Chariton where one service each month is moved a day forward to give the rector breathing room as she serves two parishes and takes on other responsibilities in a cluster of four.

Then, because I am genetically compelled to go to church on Sunday, I drove down to Grace Church in Albia the next morning. St. Andrew’s building is larger, newer and better equipped. But Grace --- built by Episcopalians, then handed off to Catholics and finally reclaimed by Episcopalians during its 140 years --- is like God’s living room. I like it there.

After the service and coffee, I picked up a sandwich and took the long way home --- down to Moravia, along the north edge of Rathbun Lake to Honey Creek State Park and up to a hill high above the water where there is a shelter, picnic tables and a memorial bench placed specifically for collectors of sunsets. I can’t count the hours I’ve spent here with others and alone.

I have a list of churches I want to visit once settled here on that Sunday once a month that will be free --- including two tiny and very old congregations in the northeast corner of Monroe County, Pleasant Corners Baptist and Monroe County Church of the Brethren, where great-great-great-grandparents, William and Miriam (Trescott) Miller and Joseph and Mary (Young) McMulin, were among the founders more than 150 years ago.

But last Sunday was a good start although I'll be heading for the early service at St. John's tomorrow, then hitting the road south with a truckload.


Heck, I wouldn’t even mind if Wal-Mart and all the Hy-Vees closed on Sundays and there was no Des Moines Sunday Register.

It’ll never happen. The economy will collapse if businesses don’t operate 24 hours a day seven days a week.

Just a minute --- the economy is collapsing.

1 comment:

Cheeky Church Lady in Training said...

Good morning Frank,
You just gave me a sliver of Sunday on a Tuesday morning. Thank you! Loved the birds and the frogs and could totally relate to being genetically predisposed to attend services. When you said "I also forgot how to relax, let go, move into holy silence and listen." I remembered what a blessing holy silence truly is. Thanks to you I will try to grab a little of that today.
Blessings, Cheeky