[Note: This next section involves composite characters and events, in order to protect the identities of the people involved. I'm retelling them, because I've had these experiences many times, in several places, with a number of different people. If you imagine you know exactly who I'm talking about, know it isn't entirely the person you're holding in your heart.]
Sometimes, social causes create our challenges for faithing; sometimes family causes, sometimes, health cause. In each, we need our stories and the songs that guide us back to those stories to help us keep keeping on. Some of my best teachers of mustard seed firefly faithing in the midst of the unknown are the people I have known living with dementia. In dementia, we lose our stories and as we lose our stories, we lose ourselves. It is up to the rest of us, the community, to hold onto those stories and give them back. But most of us don’t like retelling the hard stories, the hurting stories, the stories without immediately happy endings. Still, they’re part of our story, and some of us need to know them and retell them until we can find a way to transform those stories so they have some hope and help to them.
He was wearing five neckties. This was a very special day, a five tie kind of day. Some times one tie was simply not enough. I walked with him a while, pausing to pray with the people he stopped by, curious about where his waltz partner was. Usually, when I visited in the daytime, the man of ties was waltzing with the same woman, who wore pink earrings every day. But it was sunset and the world was a different place, the ward suffused in the red and gold and purple fire through the windows. Finally, we came to her, where she was sobbing in great fearfulness, begging the staff to find her son. She just wanted him home, even if only to bury him. Couldn’t they please help, anyone please help?
You see, the town had come, and taken him, dragged him away, and no one dared go after them and find him and bring him home. It was the same hour he had been taken, and in this story no one wanted or could find a way out of, she was stuck, every sundown, reliving, had been reliving since before she was brought to this place.
A few days before, I had been visiting another parishioner who had known many young men who had been lynched. We had been talking about that time and something in the news that had brought up that terrible time for her. I asked, “What did folks do?” “We did the only thing we could do then, we prayed,” she said. “Alone?” She smiled wryly. "No, always together, at the home or at the church, and we sang our prayers.” Those songs we pray for faithing perseverance are seeds of mercy. It’s the answer religious people have been giving for millennia in times of terror and fear: gather, two, five, ten, five hundred, and sing our way until we can feel God’s hand in ours, hear God’s heart beating with ours, know that Immanuel is real – we are not alone or forgotten.
The man of ties was weeping silently, wringing his hands, not knowing what to do. Others were joining the wailing, because when one of us is frightened, we can all easily become frightened. We can be divided, we can be tortured, the world can find us unworthy even as God finds us beautiful. Faithing together, we find our courage, our hearts with God. But even in her terror and unknowing, this woman who relived losing her son every night, losing him freshly again, already knew what to do in her unknowing, for her criess were carried on a familiar hymn tune. And so, I did as I had with my parishioner a few days before, as we prayed for her grandchildren and all those in danger in a warzone on the other side of the world. I reached out and took the woman with pink earrings in my arms, and started to sing with her, and with her, we changed songs until there was one that brought her that sense of God with us: (H.R. MacFayden, "The Lone Wild Bird", sung to the tune Prospect.)
The lone wild bird in lofty flight is still with thee, nor leaves thy sight. And I am thine! I rest in thee. Great Spirit come, and rest in me! The ends of earth are in thy hand, the sea’s dark deep and far-off land. And I am thine! I rest in thee. Great Spirit come, and rest in me.