Past Presence

Four banks of small red candles on a wooden stand. Some lit. Some unlit.

In worship I often feel the powerful presence of a “cloud of witnesses” – those who came before me or who walked with me on my spiritual journey but who are now gone.

Maybe it’s a particular line in a hymn…or maybe a dancing candle flame on the altar, or the sight of a grandmotherly type in the next pew sharing some Cheerios with a toddler.

Any number of things can summon this cloud of witnesses…

This past Sunday I felt its presence…and it included multiple manifestations of my own past self.

Suncrest United Methodist Church in Morgantown, West Virginia was my stop this week on my Summer Itinerancy 2015 (which you can read about here.) As I took my place in the sanctuary, memories began to surface.

Over there – halfway back on the right hand side near the window, fifteen-year-old-me sat with my Jewish roommate from WVU’s Fine Arts Music Camp. We wrote notes back and forth on the bulletin as I sought to answer her questions about our United Methodist worship service and theology. We chose to attend this particular church because it was within walking distance of our camp dorm.

Then, high overhead, there was mid-thirties-me overcoming my fear of heights, precariously clinging to a tall ladder to drape advent greenery on the round, swinging light fixtures over the pews. My husband and I had joined this church when he was accepted into law school and we moved to Morgantown.

Up front by the altar, proud-of-my-Disciple-class-me stood with the others from a 36-week in-depth Disciple Bible study as we celebrated completion of our time together. I had served as the group’s facilitator/leader.

Most vivid of all, just-suffered-a-miscarriage-me sat towards the middle on the left hand side, held by my husband as I unsuccessfully attempted to suppress raw, heart-wrenching sobs during the baptism of a newborn baby.

As I took my place in the sanctuary on Sunday, these images from my past formed a powerful presence in my thoughts and worship.

On this day they were definitely part of the cloud of witnesses.

By chance there was a baptism on this day.

From within the cloud of witnesses, just-suffered-a-miscarriage-me noted this in the bulletin with a tad of apprehension, but I felt at peace and did not anticipate any raw, heart-wrenching sobs on this particular day.

It has been fifteen years and I have witnessed numerous infant baptisms since that day, including that of our now teenage son.

On this day there were no sobs, but there were some tears and a bit of difficulty in singing along to “Jesus Loves Me” as the parents walked their newly-baptized son down the aisle to greet the congregation.

My emotions about the miscarriage are no longer as raw as they were fifteen years ago, but they are still there – evidence that my past-selves remain part of my cloud of witnesses.

As worship ended, we sang “Forever” – and from deep within my cloud of witnesses – fifteen-year-old me…mid-thirties-me…proud-of-my-Disciple-class-me…and just-suffered-a-miscarriage-me bore witness to the truth expressed as we sang:

Forever God is faithful

Forever God is strong

Forever God is with us

Forever, forever.

From birth and baptism through life’s ups and downs and on to death and resurrection…

No matter what congregation we call “home” at any given time…

As we attempt to share our faith…overcome our fears…celebrate growth and connection…and as we seek comfort in our grief…

Forever God is faithful

Forever God is strong

Forever God is with us

Forever, forever.

Suncrest United Methodist Church sanctuary with praise band practicing before worship service.

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