By Jayne Davis
It was really such a simple plan. The group would meet at my house at 4:30 for coffee and dessert and then head off together to the nursing home at 6 to sing Christmas carols for residents there who would be gathered in the piano room.
Why our deacon chair and his wife showed up in the piano room at 4:30 I’m still not sure. Even more of a mystery is why the residents were there as well, ready and waiting to be entertained, while our band of carolers was still enjoying homemade cakes and cookies in my living room.
Unable to slip away unnoticed, the couple’s resistance to becoming a reluctant duet proved little match for the growing disappointment on the faces of those gathered who had looked forward for hours to a happy break from the monotony of their day, or for the persistent urging of the activities director to fulfill the promise of the daily schedule posted on the wall which clearly read, “4:30 p.m. — First Baptist Church Christmas Carolers.”
It wasn’t just that the two were by themselves. They had no song books to sing from (those were with me), and apparently knew the words to very few Christmas carols. The husband quickly ducked behind the piano as his wife moved to the middle of the parquet floor which was the stage. He insisted he was only trying to help by providing some musical accompaniment, though his skills, it turned out, were clearly limited. The truth was he was the only one in the room who knew that his young bride had taken voice lessons when she was 5 years old and was so bad that the teacher gave her mother her money back after just three weeks.
This was not going to be pretty.
Indeed, it wasn’t. One woman sitting slumped in her wheelchair on the back row lifted her head only once during the singing to let out a rather gruff and prolonged holiday “Boooo!” Another woman, one of our church members who was a resident there, grabbed my arm when our group finally arrived and scolded me. “Where were you this afternoon? It was awful!”
For 10 minutes these two kind souls muddled through Silent Night, Jingle Bells and the like, awkwardly humming through most of the other eight reindeer names until they finally got to Rudolph’s. It was not long after they wearily wished everyone present a Merry Christmas and left that I received a brief text message that they would not be joining us for dessert.
The courage of these two lone carolers has stuck with me through the years. They said, “Yes.” They showed up and gave what they could, at no small price to their own self-esteem.
Something holy happens in those kind of moments.
I used to think that ministry was all about what I had to say or what I could do when I got there — in the pulpit, at the hospital bedside, over coffee during a crisis of faith. But time has instructed me in the sacred way of a certain uselessness. It is the spiritual practice of showing up — showing up in those moments when I think I am not enough and would rather run away. Of leaning in to the emptiness when I think I have nothing to give — no words to make it better, no skill for the task at hand, no energy to be creative, no stomach for the tension of the situation — and letting God be God in me and trusting that it will be enough. On the other side of the fear of failure, of rejection or loss, is a manger ready and waiting for the Christ child to be born into the world once again.
There was another man in the room that night who the deacon chair and his wife didn’t get to see. His small frame all but disappeared into the chair. His eyes were open but unmoved by all of the activity around him. And even though his family had not heard the sweet sound of his rich tenor voice in far too many years, his lips moved gently, silently mouthing the final refrain as the couple sang, “Sleep in heavenly peace.” Immanuel, God with us.
When we show up we make room for God to appear. In a conversation. In a conflict. In a community. In just those moments when the world wants to run away, God calls us to show up, often without answers or fixes or sheet music, sometimes all alone and maybe a little off key; to show up open, expectant, empty-handed, and believe that the Word will become flesh even in us this day.
This column originally ran on Dec. 12, 2014.