Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Entertaining Angels

Summer Sunday mornings have been the same in our household for a number of years. They combine as much rugged outdoorsmanship as our group can handle (a few breaths of fresh air, but always with quick access to pavement and bathrooms) with an eclectic sort of spirituality that seems to fit our love for random variety. On Sundays at 10, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, we are at the rotating church services held at the Lake Harriett bandshell.

We bike or walk, and bring along whatever able-bodied dog wants to join (and be used as a pillow for maximum lolling). We sit as far back as possible from the action, under a faraway tree that’s just within earshot of the service. We can never, ever, be found on the benches where the holy, attentive people are gathered. In fact, we’re as far back as it’s possible to sit while still calling it “going to church.”

With blankets, drinks, snacks and sometimes even the Sunday funnies to pass the time, we listen sporadically and comment frequently, with special attention to the quality of the musical offerings. We are heard to frequently marvel that the same 50ish woman with the awful voice seems to be trilling loudly in every denomination in the Twin Cities. She sure gets around.

Summer is winding to a close, and there are not many more semi-spiritual Sundays left for us. This past Saturday night, I looked deep into the eyes of my brood, realized that Sunday would be their last sleep-in for a while, and declared services “optional.” Much as I’d miss the kids, I thought it might be fun to sit quietly, act like a grownup and actually, you know, pray.

And then The Boy showed up. He used to be in school with my youngest, a few years ago. He has since left her school, which is a great place for an attractive blond child of normal intelligence, with a mommy and daddy and a minivan. For anyone else, not so much. He was in the not-so-much crowd, having some behavior and learning problems of which I was vaguely aware. Mary Katherine moved then, and moves now, in an ocean of girls, but his name came up frequently as the instigator of  actions she found repulsive. Boys.

We have run into him at outside church from time to time. He loved our old giant dog, and was very sad when he saw us in June and heard that the big dog had died in February. This Sunday, I saw him approach with a sinking heart. This kid is a talker. He found us right when the service was warming up, and came to meet the new giant dog and to tell me everything that had happened to him during the past six weeks. I was about to make some grownupy comment ("let's pay attention in church, dear"), when I happened to hear  what they were reading up at the bandshell. It was from Hebrews: Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

There goes the Sunday morning.

The Boy was telling me his worries, but in that boylike braggy way those male types have. “I’ll be riding my bike to middle school,” he told me, and then described (in detail; this kid does not spare the detail) the way he’d be arranging his lock so no one would steal the bike. So he was worried about theft. He’d gotten a cell phone, and gave me a long description of its technical features, then told me he’d been allowed to get it because he’d be alone while riding his bike. So he was worried about kidnappers. The Ransom of Red Chief flitted into my mind, but I swatted it away.

He got out his camera and began to show me every photo he’d taken of his Chicago vacation, including those from the plane window. I heard the ubiquitous church lady warm up for a shrill hymn, and I imagined Jesus holding his hands over his ears from the misery of hearing her singing, and worse yet, about his own self. So I thought about what I was doing, just looking deeply into the eyes of someone who had so much he wanted to tell me. If he was talking to a boring old woman like me, he must be desperate for someone to hear him.  True, he didn’t seem much like an angel -- just like a skinny boy who was trying not to let anyone know how afraid he was.

I hope I did what I was supposed to on Sunday.  I certainly didn't pay attention to church, but I did  entertain. And even if he wasn’t an angel, I had a sense that spending time with this kid was truly how I was supposed to celebrate one of my last summer Sundays.

Good luck at school this week, Boy. God go with you.

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