Marcia Haley is one of my favorite people. She's angelic in some ways. Something happened to her when she was a young girl to slow her intellectual development. I don't know what it was, I've only known her for the past eight or ten years and so what was "lost" in that episode doesn't occur to me. All I know is that this sweet woman from a prominent family in our church never misses the opportunity to find me every Sunday morning for a hug and a kiss and to give Blaise and Dusty her best. She's often wearing an alb and is the most reliable acolyte or chalice bearer at the 10:30 service.
During the Gospel reading at Trinity, an acolyte will take the cross (a 6 foot tall pole with hand-carved cross at the top) to the center aisle somewhere around a third of the way back. When the cross passes at the processional or recessional and Gospel reading, it is customary to bow, indicating our own insignificance in the presence of the Christ resurrected.
Dusty's first morning as acolyte many years ago was unforgettable. He made it in carrying the cross just fine. It was at the Gospel reading when, as usual, he was followed to the center aisle by a chalice bearer carrying the Bible, and then the Deacon whose privilege it is to perform the reading. Only Dusty didn't stop a third of the way down the aisle. He, not able to see behind him, carried the cross all the way to the back of the church and out the door. The Bible and deacon stopped in the correct place. When Dusty finally turned around, Deacon Dave, a mountain of a man, smiled and gestured for him to come back. Dusty at his best.
Two years ago, many insignificant things started to loom large in the eyes my faith. I began to notice small nuances. And one of those was, and still is, Marcia.
I see her walking through town alone, from time to time. She walks because she cannot drive. I think she takes care of herself pretty well, doing her own shopping and preparing meals. I would guess her to be in her fifties now. We all know people like her. They don't fit very well into our view of "productive" society. We've placed such a high value on accomplishments and personal bests. By many standards, Marcia has little value. She has a quiet and simple sense of humor. I've never heard her argue the finer points of theology, but she did confess to me after my accident that she had prayed for me "all the time". I'd wager, those were prayers God was most happy to receive. In fact that first day back in church after six weeks in the trauma unit plus several more at home, is hard for me to remember. One thing that stands out is Marcia Haley hugging me over and over, and when she finally let go, I saw she was crying.
But the smallest thing is something I can't shake very well. It is when Marcia carries the cross. At the processional, when the cross leads her past me, I bow. At the Gospel reading, leading the Bible and the deacon, I bow again. And as the whole gang, acolytes, chalice bearers, deacon, lector, and finally priests make their way to the narthex, they are led by the cross, borne by Marcia Haley. Blink and you'll miss it. There are so many layers of meaning in it.
The least of these, redeemed by the most powerful reminder in the building, the Cross. She stands, made mighty, because of the cross. All around the room, as she walks by, important lawyers and businessmen, retired and visiting priests, intellectual giants and educated scholars... all of them, to the man and woman... bows. Marcia Haley, whom I see walking into town is merely Marcia Haley. But put the cross in her hands, and she is the most scandalously powerful person in the building. Of course nobody is bowing to her. Nor does anyone bow to the object, as if it were an idol. We are bowing to what is behind both. Sometimes I nearly gasp at the thought of it.
The very idea that this meek woman would hold such a precious thing. And why shouldn't she?! That's the point. We are, everyone of us, unworthy and castoffs without that cross. We bow to the idea of it...and paradoxically, at the same time, the reality of Christ. Why shouldn't we hold the idea of, and therefore the reality of each person as precious. And that picture, is the greatest image of Grace, like a living breathing icon, that I've ever known.
The angels have so often been portrayed as messengers. And there's that side of Marcia. The Sunday morning hug and her kiss on my cheek, her respectful "good morning Mr. Douros", and her almost shy departure at the end of it all makes me wonder why I don't bow when I see her on the street.
All of this has caused me to look around a lot more on Sunday mornings. There's meaning in almost every one of Christopher's gestures. Even individual cuts of stained glass in each panel can carry a whole biblical truth. Certain candles. The incense. Hundreds of details in each icon. The carefully chosen words of the Nicene Creed. (Even down to specific phrases). All of it layered full of meaning. At the end of a service I've taken away a single morsel that will feed my soul for weeks. That's where Marcia and I have so much in common. Those massive truths go on without us both. It's when we take hold of any one of them, and especially the cross, that our esteem goes beyond anything humanly measurable.