It has been almost ten years since we stood at the altar of an old, Baptist church, June sun shooting through the glass stained blue and green, downtown traffic buzzing outside of the thick, wooden doors. We lifted our voices while we squeezed our hands and felt the words to How Great Thou Art sink into the choir of hundreds of friends and family. They were all present in their finest clothes to witness the joining of our lives. I remember how easily the lyrics left my lips, how they nearly floated out of my nervous smile. They rang loud and true while the ancient organ hummed low beneath all that joy rising in song.
Just a couple of weeks ago, sparks from the fire popped into the black sky over our backyard. Bare hands, shaking from the fall crisp held plastic cups of red wine and glass bottles of amber beer. In camping seats and wooden lawn chairs, on top of coolers and criss-crossed on the brick patio, friends gathered around the hot blazes as my husband poked a stick to stir the flames. They came to remember. They came to support. They came to pour their tears into our cupped hands, the perfect and only offering. It was a night to feel the grief of losing our little boy two years ago. And our voices cracked with deep sadness as we whispered the words of that same hymn, How Great Thou Art. The strumming of the guitar could just barely hold up our fragile song.
I felt it on the altar that afternoon in June so many years ago. I felt it in our backyard that night in October. The deepest places are an invitation to touch the holy. And I wonder sometimes why it is that those moments of grief, of despair, feel like they are scraping right up against a mystery hinting of joy and peace. How can it be that the same song, the same old, ancient hymn could cause a heart to bleed the same hot tears on the altar of marriage and at the service of remembrance? I don’t know for sure why the wall between joy and grief feels at times more fragile than lace, with holes to peer through and catch a peak of the other side...
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