reconciling things

“Allow it all to happen: beauty and terror…” Rilke

Recently I decided my attitude needed a severe adjustment. I had wallowed long enough. I am the kind of person who needs a good wallow. There is no “power of positive thinking” in my personality. I need to dive deep, feel it all, and then come up for air and perspective once I have fully explored the depth of the wretchedness of my human condition. I can pretty much guarantee that if someone suggests I “get over it” or “look on the bright side” I have mentally throat punched them and then dove a little deeper into my feelings.

It’s a completely different thing than someone who says essentially, “I will feel that with you. And let me know how I can support the journey back to life.” I am all about that….and the cup of coffee that comes with it.

I digress…

Recently I decided my attitude needed a severe adjustment. I was in my kitchen at work and decided that what was needed was old school praise and worship music at full volume and occasionally breaking out into dance. Stop by the kitchen if you, too, need an attitude adjustment. I don’t have any flags to wave around, but you can use a napkin.

My 16 year old son was lending me a hand when a song came on that brought him full nostalgia. He said it made him think of the Sunday mornings of his childhood, coming downstairs to a big breakfast, blaring worship music, and everyone rushing around getting ready for church. He said it was a pleasant memory. So that’s good, because if you are a parent of a large family you have probably known a few stressful Sunday mornings when you were shouting about how this child can only find one shoe and this other child just spilled milk on his jacket and this other child is moving like a snail and would those other two please stop fighting or so-help-me-God I am going to need Confession before Mass. It’s a relief when the 16 year old has pleasant memories of Sunday mornings with worship music and pancakes.

It sent me reminiscing about the Sunday mornings of my childhood, which also are pleasantly nostalgic.

Vintage photo of my mom and siblings, most definitely not on a Sunday morning

My dad would be up hours and hours before time for church. By the time the rest of the family emerged from our rooms he would be fully dressed in his three piece suit, pacing the living room with his Bible open. He wasn’t studying exactly. He wasn’t necessarily even reflecting. I would say he was priming the pump.

None of us would even think about telling him we were too tired, sick, or out too late the night before to make it church. Although Protestants don’t have the concept of “Holy Days of Obligation,” in the Abdelaziz house we had the next closest thing, which went like, “Oh, you don’t feel well? Better go to church so people can pray for you.”

“Oh, you’re tired? I guess you prioritized that party more than you did Jesus. Let’s go to church and talk to God about that.”

Going to church was never an option. It was an expectation with zero gray area.

As my dad paced with his Bible open, his fist pounding the air from time-to-time, he would often have some gospel music playing. I grew up with Dorothy Norwood coming up the rough side of the mountain, Vestal Goodman not taking anything for her journey, and James Cleveland telling the church to get right so we could all go home already! Particularly tender memories exists around a song by the Williams Brothers, “I’m just a nobody, trying to tell everybody, about Somebody, who can save anybody.” I think my dad who always had a special affinity for alliterations and wordplay would call into the radio show and request it.

My mother always looked like perfection on Sunday mornings, due in part to the fact that my dad always made sure her dress was ironed perfectly (he has a gift for ironing) and due in part to her excellent taste and coordinated shoes and handbag. She has more class than sass and I have often wondered what kind of ulcer I have given her over the years with my stubborn refusal to color-coordinate or not mix stripes and plaid. For her going to church was not about a fashion show, though, it was about giving God her best. It was my mother who saved me from the faulty fundamentalist interpretation of St. Peter that frumpiness was next to godliness. Even to this day, as I get myself ready to go out, I can hear her voice “You look pale. Put on some lipstick.” She said it with tenderness, not judgement, and I knew it. So, I didn’t get salty about it. Even now I have a devotion to lipstick like it is my superpower (and really no one could convince me otherwise).

A more recent picture of my parents

Before the days of late nights and lipstick, Sunday mornings had my busy parents (they were the pastors! There was no getting there late) tag-teaming on hair and shoe polish and making sure that people knew where their Bibles and hankies were. It must have been exhausting—like absolutely exhausting, because they had a firmly instituted rite of the Sunday afternoon nap. The brief respite before we went back to church in the evening and did it all over again. (Catholic readers, you did know Protestants—especially the pentecostal ones—go twice on Sundays, right? Think of that the next time your priest’s homily goes a little long.)

But now I am Catholic. And Sunday mornings are more like, “Y’all have exactly 47 minutes to eat these pancakes before your Eucharistic fast starts. So, hurry up!” (Protestant readers, you did know Catholics do not eat for at least an hour before church so that they receive Our Lord in Holy Communion in an empty stomach—literally hungering after righteousness, right? Think of that the next time you carry your coffee and donut into the auditorium.)

And now I have no spouse to tag-team Sunday mornings, so not gonna lie—I have let things slide. Like the kind of slide when I look down at my child next to me in the pew and wonder, “Did I really let my flesh and blood leave the house looking like that? My grandparents are rolling over in their graves.” Shoes do not get often polished and I cannot tell you the last time I ironed anything.

Some things I have definitely not let slide, namely the insistence that going to church is a priority regardless of how tired you are, what you did last night, or how you feel about your weekend plans. Regardless of anything shy of a blizzard, we are going to church. You may be shocked to know that we didn’t even miss a single week due to pandemic restrictions. Not one. Not ever. Because some things are more important in the goodness hierarchy.

I have also kept Gospel Music as a Sunday tradition. All the way to Mass this morning, we blasted it, and sang our hearts out. Priming the pump, as it were. Sure, it’s not liturgical music, which is Calvary, and requires a certain degree of reverence and solemness. But it is deeply human music that speaks to the root of our human condition, the need for grace, and the hope of redemption. Priming the pump? Attitude adjustment? Both.

I also kept my lipstick.

Pssst, if you want to try out my childhood soundtrack next Sunday morning or bad attitude, here you go, my Old School playlist:

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