A memory in black and white

A memory so ancient, it could be in black and white.

I met the vicar on the street, in his white collar.

He said, “J’accuse!”

He did not. 

He said, “It has been too long since you received Communion.”

I was so far from grace, I heard conviction instead of invitation.

“I was busy,” with adolescent dignity, “playing your black and white Sunday School piano.”

I think he wore a black hat.

He said, “You need Communion.” 

And he passed on.

In the blackest sky I ever knew shone the most and brightest stars.

I saw some fall like the round, white wafer into my hand.

I am participating in a 20-day Evangelism Challenge designed by the Revd Dr Patricia Lyons for and with the Diocese of Ohio (although I don’t promise to post every day!). Today’s prompt asks: “Think about your life. When have you felt close to God? When have you felt far from God? What brought you home?”
Some of us have a lot of life to sift through! The longer version of the memory above is written up below.
Sign up for more prompts at https://www.dohio.org/offices/congregations-christian-formation/2022-winter-convocation

I do not have good memories of my teenage years. Make of that what you will; I do not remember those times well.

For example, in my twenties I met a woman at a hotel who swore that she knew me. We traded overlapping, intersecting stories and locations, and she pinned me down to a weeklong, residential music retreat held at a teacher training college. She was in the county youth choir; I was in the orchestra. I had often wondered how I knew so well what the entrance to that college looked like, since I did not remember going there. To this day, I have no memory beyond its front doors.

Were those the days when I was far from God? I was clearly far from myself.

I do remember a conversation I had in passing with the vicar. When I was a child, and started taking myself to church, I didn’t know that there was such a thing as Sunday School, held in the parish hall where I went to Brownies. I stayed in the service with the adults and their overcoats. I am glad no one sent me away. (This was in the olden days.)

But at a certain point in my teens, I was recruited to play the piano for the Sunday School songs, ended up spending my 11 o’clock hour in the parish hall instead of the wooden nave, in my side pew with the view of the Lady Chapel. 

When the vicar stopped me on the street, somewhere between his house and the churchyard, and said, “You haven’t been to Communion for a while,” I was indignant. “I’m busy playing the piano for your Sunday School,” I thought, and perhaps said. “Then you need to come to the 8 o’clock,” he returned, unperturbed. “You need the Eucharist.”

It was sometime close to that conversation that I saw the stars for the first time. Of course I had seen ordinary, suburban stars before, but here in the Welsh hills, on some youth group weekend that I also barely remember, I saw the stars as they were designed to be seen. I do not know even today whether there was a meteor shower, or whether with such a conflagration of stars visible one is bound to see the odd one fall.

Somehow, that memory has bound itself to the word on the street, and the knowledge more than the remembrance of returning to the altar rail, of the Sacrament in my hand, in my mouth. It turned out that Dilwyn was right: give me all the stars in the night sky; I still will need Jesus.

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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