My five-year-old niece, Madeline, and I had a Very Special Day on Sunday. Matt dropped us off at the Pentagon station to catch the train into the city. We were both wearing lavender dresses, which made making our way, hand in hand, through the tunnels and escalators of the Metro that much more special. We even skipped a little. Two train rides and a five block stroll took us to the steps of National City Christian Church, which is the "national cathedral" of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). We were both impressed with the grandiose building; it's all marble and dome and columns, fitting right in with the preferred architecture of memorials and government.
We were just a little bit late, so we tagged along with the processional. Maddie took everything in with the wonderment she expresses so well; this is the girl who was so entranced by the lights and fountain at our new neighborhood mall that she whispered, "This is such a beautiful place!" If a mall can evoke such reverence, imagine a vast sanctuary enclosed by stained glass and full of such curiosities as organ pipes, golden chalices, and a choir in beautiful robes.
I wondered if she would sing along with the hymns, like she did when we visited Village Christian Church in Colorado Springs when she was three. I didn't hear her surprisingly on-key humming this time, although the organ was so magnificent it was hard to hear much of anything over the rumble of the pipes.
I tried to see the service through her eyes. The call and response readings? Just like her book of fairy tales in the "You read to me, I'll read to you" series. But I really can't guess at her perspective. I don't think I ever had Maddie-caliber wonder; I thought church was boring when I was little. Maddie's deep appreciation of beauty seems more than just a mark of her age.
When the diaconate came around with the Communion elements, I helped Madeline take a wafer and a tea-party-sized cup of grape juice. She didn't ask what it meant, and later, when she mentioned the little snack to her Daddy, I wondered if I should have tried to explain it. But my instinct is that Communion doesn't have to be explained before it is experienced. What I want Maddie to know, what I want everyone to know, is that it is a snack for everyone. Maybe in my sermonspeak for adults I would use different words, I would use words like Kingdom of God and extravagant hospitality and sacred feast. But the most simple and most beautiful explanation is that it is a snack for everyone.
I went through a phase where I was vehemently anti-Santa Claus, not only because of the consumerism of the season, but because it sort of seemed like a way to teach children that belief is something you grow out of. Tell them something true to believe in. But lately I've been thinking that growing out of the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus is even more a growing into the realization that the gifts were coming from a source even better than the make-believe story: the people who know you and love you and keep watch by your door at night. The ones who gave you life. Maybe someday it will be important to explain the why and how and who behind the snack for everyone, but for now maybe it's enough to just receive it in wonderment.
After the bombastic postlude, a number of people came and greeted us. Maddie took some pictures of the things she liked most, and we crossed into the center park of Thomas Circle so she could get a good shot of the whole building. We finished our outing with lunch at a little French bakery, which Maddie pointed out that we had to ourselves. They were playing hipster music, and we danced in our chairs between bites of sandwich and swigs of lemonade.
On the way back to the Metro station, Maddie told me that she loved going to church and that it was a very special day. Indeed.