Morning Liturgy

Call to Worship

Just down Ridge Street, only a couple blocks from my house, a trio in neon orange vests semi-circled near heavy machinery. An orange sign propped atop the sidewalk informed me that road work was ahead. A line of orange cones cut into the paved lane, requiring drivers to creep through the tight squeeze. The youngest of the three gripped the T-handle of a jackhammer, steel driver resting ready on asphalt marked with blue spray-paint lines where the steel would bust the ground to smithereens. He clutched tight, but too tense, like a little-leaguer with his bat before the first pitch on his very first opening day.

The other two encouraged him, “Hold that big button now. Be ready.” One of them fired a growling generator, and the man clinching the steel watched me out of the corner of his eye, not wanting any strange faces to interrupt this moment he’d probably been dreaming of for years. I’m familiar with this fantasy, steering a wild jackhammer, blasting concrete and rock until nothing’s left but rubble and exhausted energy. I know what it is to be on the verge of sheer joy, sweaty palms and excited, taut muscles, ready.

Music

Is it blasphemy to say The Band did “Atlantic City” better than The Boss himself? A strong mandolin makes everything better.

Passing the Peace

The one fellow who refuses to look me in the eye continues his bulldogged persistence. Several weeks ago I thought we had a breakthrough, but apparently I only caught him when he let his guard down and allowed his eyes an inadvertent glance as I brushed past. In this sacred environ, he is the equivalent of the bookish man who refuses to surrender his one spot on the pew and who will walk out at 12:01 if the service has not concluded. Thankfully, there’s also a young newcomer who walks peppy and every single day tips his baseball hat at me when he says hello, like he’s the sheriff and I’m one of his townfolk.

Silence

Some mornings, I listen to one of Krista Tippett’s interviews. She always posts the edited version (the one produced for broadcast) and the unedited version (the complete feed, without any doctoring, thus including hiccups and technical snafus and rabbit trails that will surely never see the light of day). Perhaps my favorite part of the unedited track is the long pauses, the silences that make their way into a conversation that is real, not scripted. These silences come when you are not trying so hard to sound smart but rather to listen well, to be present with the one sharing your conversation. If there is a word I think we need to use more, it’s pause.

Blessing

Me to Wyatt and Seth: I love you. Have a great day. I’ll miss you.

Miska to me: I love you, beloved.

Characters from 5th St.

Main stSince I take the same route for my pre-breakfast jog five or six days a week, I encounter many of the same characters. We’ve woven in and out of each other’s routines enough to recognize one another, though I suspect I’m easier to remember because half the time I have a small fuzzy bear loping behind me. Allow me a few introductions.

The first is a sixty-something fellow who strolls up the sidewalk on 5th street. He has a strong, purposeful stride and wears a black Ivy cap and, usually, a charcoal grey sweater. I say morning as I pass, and he replies in a no-nonsense tone, with the faintest smile. “Good morning. How are you?” My goodness, I love that man’s voice. It’s a ringer for Charlie Utter, Sheriff Bullock’s deputy in Deadwood. I feel better knowing this man walks our neighborhood.

Another sidewalk encounter offers a bit of drama. This is a younger chap, early thirties maybe. He wears a beanie, pulled tight over his head. Today the beanie was one of those with tassels hanging to the shoulders – too cute for a fellow I know as Grumpy Guy. Each time we pass, I say morning. Each time we pass, he stares dead ahead. Either stoned or ferociously angry at the world – I can’t tell, but it’s my mission to win him over, to get a hello from him. After today’s failure, I played out a fantasy. We somehow land at the same party. The music’s loud, and we both retreat to the back deck for quiet. It’s cold, and he’s pulled out the beanie with the tassels. We know each other, but awkwardly talk about the bad music instead. Turns out, the guy’s not grumpy at all. Or stoned. He’s actually a softie. He lives with his invalid grandmother, and he plays the tuba. We laugh when I admit I was always a wee concerned that one of these days he would answer my greeting with a punch to the face. He chuckles and says he wears ear buds tucked under the beanie, and he’s blasting Nirvana, paying little attention to the rest of the world. We laugh more. A good fantasy.

My favorite character this morning was a woman in a grey PT Cruiser. Stopped at a light, she laid on her horn for a good blast. I jerked her direction, and I found her smiling at me, thumb up and extended my way. She held her thumb high, making sure I saw. Way to go, she said. You got this.

Four of us met this morning. We’re not friends, we’re not exactly strangers. I can imagine, though, how we might all need one another. Grumpy Guy needs an old leathery deputy-type who’s gruff, but deep-hearted, to yank his chain (or his tassel, what have you) and call his bluff. And every good man needs a lost soul to salvage, an opportunity to pull another man from his slumber. Of course, we all need someone to cheer us on, to give us her uninhibited joy.

I’m sure each of them offer me something. I hope I have eyes to see and a heart to receive.