Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Playing in the Pulpit

by Katherine Stanford

Every week my Sunday school teachers would finish class
by saying, “Ok, go out and play!”
This was back when people let their 5-year-olds run all over church grounds.
No one was concerned about where you were.
Somehow, we always made it back to Fellowship Hall
just as our parents were done talking.
The Viet Nam war was in full swing,
and nobody at my church in Palo Alto gave too much heed to authority,
so it would have been pointless—and hypocritical—to tell us kids
where to play.
So we scattered to the playground, the courtyard, the parking lot….
But I always walked back over to the Sanctuary.
“Come in and play,” I’d feel God say.
And I would.
Sometimes I would just stand there in the huge space
listening to the intense quiet.
Sometimes I’d go up to the choir loft and look down at all the empty pews.
But most of the time, I climbed up into the pulpit.
This was before mics in church, so it wasn’t that that drew me.
And I didn’t pretend to be either one of our ministers—
even the female associate pastor.
I just liked being in there. It was cozy. I felt at peace.
Usually I’d just sit down on the cool slate floor
and think.
I was really shy, and my mother—who is not—was forever trying to get me to open up,
to talk more, to make more friends. And I worked really hard at that.
But it was exhausting sometimes.
So there in the church, I could just be.
God knows me pretty well, I thought.
I didn’t need to talk out loud, or do anything.
I was just me.
Sometimes if I was really feeling inspired—
that’s how I experienced it, I didn’t think of it as the Spirit—
when I was really inspired, I’d stand in the middle of the chancel
and sing, full voice.
One time somebody came in—
but she didn’t say anything. She just smiled and went back out.
I felt really good and really exhilarated standing there.
It felt like God’s stage.
It grounded me, and it gave me courage and energy
for the whole week at school,
when I was trying to fit in, to find my way, my voice.
God called me there, every Sunday.
Then I grew up and forgot all about it.
Except I’d sense God dropping in at the oddest times.
Walking around Manhattan 15 years later
I suddenly noticed this church on 5th Avenue and 12th Street.
I’d passed it for years. But something kept urging me,
“Come in.”
But for over a year the building was covered in scaffolding,
and I literally couldn’t find a way in.
Then one day it was off,
a door was revealed,
and I walked in and sat down in the huge sanctuary,
and I felt God smiling.
Life went on. I had babies and moved out of the city,
where another sanctuary drew me in
—tall Tiffany windows—un-Presbyterian, but so inspiring.
Before I knew it I was there almost daily,
serving on boards and committees, doing bible studies.
God started pursuing me relentlessly:
“Come in! Come in! Come in!”
How much more in could I possibly be?
And then I remembered playing in the pulpit.
A space in my head opened up,
and there was light and clarity.
And all the exhaustion and frustration and depression
around babies and committees and life
just started to lift.
God knows me pretty well.
Yet… God is calling. Me.
To what? Ministry?
To do what? To say what?
“Come in. Come in. Come in.” Amen.

Friday, February 1, 2008


I look at You,
and You look at me.

In my eyes You see my secrets,
my fears and my dreams,

yet with all that You know
and the thorns on Your head
You welcome me home
as though I had never left.

My eyes toward heaven
Yours' toward earth...

Ivy Helman
Voice, 2002


Scream and the World changes. Or maybe not
at all maybe my screams are really screaming
STOP! to a World that already knows how to
change because the World after all Spirit and
Matter Everything and Everyone is Change. So
maybe I need to fine-tune my screams into the
World's silence that is oh so loud! Oh so
exquisitely loud and tender and beautiful in its
ugliness so that if I don't scream I must curl up
and sob and rock oh so rhythmically to the beat
that does not go away.

Claudia Muro
Voice, 2000


They say your eyes
are the windows to your soul.
But what I witnessed
that Easter evening
went far beyond
the pane
as windows and walls gently crumbled
in the slow quake of your release.

It was so wide.
So wide
that my mouth opened in unison
and I quietly hoped
that I could go too.

Lynne M. Mikulak
For Jane - September 15, 1960 - April 4, 1999
Voice, 2000

Sister Sojourner!

I am a black woman
journeying through the wilderness
not yet in the land of promise
weeping for what was left behind
unaware of what lies ahead
holding in my bosom sustenance
to nurture, transform, and shake up a nation
praying to God for the Holy Spirit's power
for the completion of my sojourn
singing because the distant land looms large
like a mirage yet its existence is sure
shouting praise in advance of my arrival
aware I must resist complacent celebration for
helping another sister left behind
to find her way, her voice, her power, is the reason for
journeying through the wilderness
I am a black woman.

Tamara Moreland
Voice, 2000