- Aarik Danielsen
Sunday in Six Scenes
The band warms up; percussion only. Their first call to worship arrives before 8:30 a.m.
Puppy paws move across the hardwood floor like a jazz drummer, growing older and more disoriented, skittering across the cymbals. A 9-year-old boy’s steps—which will never be quieter than they are today—provide tom and kick, tom and kick. Kick kick kick.
Their music knows no melody, no harmony. Yet adventure is in it, currents of drama that can’t resolve on their own. And there’s a shared history to the playing, winding back hours before the first, thumping notes jar me to life.
The noise is enough to make me question descending; from one floor to another, from sacred solitude—even the disrupted kind—into the acoustic center of seventh-day discord.
My thoughts have already bent into a question: Would I want to be a sermon illustration?
Two hours later, the preacher, a good man riding a good train of thought, invokes a small country still cashing in hundred-to-one odds in conflict against a neighboring Goliath. Their freedom fight becomes a symbol for repelling sin or withstanding deception or something else. My thoughts have already bent into a question: Would I want to be a sermon illustration?
I supplied my Baptist pastor dad with plenty of material for 18 years. No doubt I arrive in the middle of his supply sermons now. And through my decade spent as a lay elder, I made myself the punchline of many stories. Did you hear the one about the Christian who was too earnest, too short-sighted, terrible at talking to girls, quick to turn scrap metal into idols?
What if I lived in that small country with a burning-ear knowledge—that my name passes lips half a world away each Sunday? For God’s sake, of course. My inner pacifist thinks I’d rather be a testimony to innocence. A tragic monument to what happens when evil men live unchecked, not a fighter with blood—even guilty blood—on his hands. Make me a history lesson, not some malleable hero kept at safe distance. But what the hell do I know?
Re-entering the present tense, I’m glad no one’s talking about me.
My wife and I transmit a series of tiny telegraphs during Sunday services, seizing 45 minutes without a child draped across shoulders, hers or mine.
I silently tell her phone about a feeling I can’t quite name. Loneliness, maybe. Measures of resentment. Forsaken every direction but hers. When this feeling shows up, and keeps saying its Midwestern goodbye, I shut my eyes in excruciating prayer—to stop living so softly and tenderly, so often flushed and forever vulnerable.
With my patron saint Lloyd Dobler, I turn toward particular temptation: to feel the rain as a baptism. To find the new me. To go Iceman. Power Lloyd (Power Aarik, as it were). Untouched, and thus, unaffected.
But I know how this worked out for Lloyd, and I know how it will work out for me. Alas, we only know one way to live.
The Canaanite woman begged for table scraps; here I am, asking you to make crumbs expand in my stomach till I am no longer empty.
Shuffling through the line for a share of the host, I reach for the smallest piece of bread my eyes spy. You know all things, Lord—surely you know I am testing you. The Canaanite woman begged for table scraps; here I am, asking you to make crumbs expand in my stomach till I am no longer empty.
In the pew, I whisper words only God can hear. My only hope in life and in death. Words as dry on my tongue as the bread itself. Half of me pleads for him to break through; the other half wills the service to end before he has the chance.
Once young enough to live on nothing but certainty, I damned every flimsy excuse men tell themselves about why they won’t sing in church. Today I can’t lift my head, let alone my voice. My wife, knowing my easily-broken heart and tripwire brain, places her hand just below my neck. She sings the “hallelujahs” I can’t muster.
Anyone who lobs their views on gender like smoke bombs into crowded rooms, who feels nothing in the presence of La Pietà, who won’t admit the power of women in the house of God can’t possibly understand what I’m trying to tell you. But I sensed that small plot of my body, just the size of one right hand, healing beneath her touch.
I want time and hallelujahs enough for her to touch every broken part of me, but the singing ends.
We would truly understand each other, and it would be among the holiest things we ever do.
Rising to leave, I wish I could print the last 729 words onto a placard, that everyone gathered here could print out their own 729 words and we could all wear them on thick strings around our necks. Walking toward the sanctuary doors, we would stop and read someone else’s words. Several someone elses if we slow our steps enough.
One person’s says “the Sunday scaries are coming from inside the house.” Another writes, “I don’t need a hand. I don’t want to feel a feeling. I just want heaven and earth to align like I keep praying about.” We would offer “amens” where “amen” is needed, “God, please” when appropriate. We would truly understand each other, and it would be among the holiest things we ever do.
The benediction arrives, a cappella. Two male Midwestern voices offer melody, countermelody, occasional harmony as I partake in their podcast some 13 hours after the call to worship. They talk about pop culture, but their words sound like true community and rare wisdom.
As I loosen my grip, letting Sunday slip and stumble toward midnight Monday, I feel a not entirely unwelcome fear—that I confuse what’s ordinary and extraordinary about these hours; that Sunday is rarely a day of rest, but an artful dodger, a trick of divine benevolence focusing our eyes and ears and attentions to the head of every pin God dances upon.