Inclusion

by Hannah the Zebra

The week before last was Holy Week, which is always somewhat emotional for me.  Partly it is the exhaustion that comes with more than 10 hours of rehearsals/performances/services of the week.  (I am a musician.)  But it is also the religious events themselves. It is a week to focus a little more inward, engage in some additional study or meditation, and reflect on the meaning of the religious events.

Most years those 10+ extra hours are added on to my already full teaching schedule.  But since I am on medical leave this year, I had the luxury of being able to focus almost exclusively on the importance of the week.  And what I found was that the week brought tears.  Not the tears that you wish you weren’t shedding, but good tears.  And I was able to let the tearful moments or hours linger so that I could absorb their meaning.

They were often tears of gratitude because I was able to breathe and be fully present.  I would notice something, and then be able to breathe, and let it settle into my heart.  What touched me most deeply were the moments I noticed how diverse and inclusive we are as a congregation.  Our foot washing service on Maundy Thursday evening frequently brings me to tears.  Sometimes I wash, or have my own feet washed by someone I know, sometimes by a stranger.  Each of those two experiences elicit different but equally deep emotions.  But this time as I walked forward, I noticed the gathering of so many of our disabled members of the congregation. People with walkers or in wheelchairs. And children from about 8 – 15 years old with developmental or physical disabilities. It was at that point that I started to weep. I was directed to a chair to have my feet washed by a stranger.  I sat down, and realized that the person standing behind me who was helping with the service was a person who had prayed for me, embracing me, during the most intense period of my illness. I reached behind¸ took her hand, and let her draw me to her, enfolding me, there among others who were also struggling daily with their limitations.  We were, in effect, the halt and the lame, some of us more obviously so than others.  And all of us were welcomed.

The music of Holy Week is particularly beautiful in its range from plaintive to joyous, and is some of my favorite music of the liturgical year.  Standing there singing in rehearsals and performances during the week, and looking around at the fifty people whom I know and love, my heart was again touched by their care and concern.  We know each other’s generosity and frailty, and the support system we form with each other is palpable.  As we sang, I listened to our voices blend in the various parts, and blinked back tears, thinking, “I am here. Now. And I am grateful.”

Easter Sunday, as we sang through a particularly long processional encompassing almost every isle of the church, I watched. I looked for faces I knew, I watched people looking at us with appreciation and love, and I observed our inclusively.  I passed a couple where one of them was unable to stand, and saw his partner gently stroking his back in comfort. I passed a couple with their newborn swaddled in a sling that held him close to his mother’s heart.  I could see only his hands peaking out, and from the size of his little fists, I judged him to be only about four weeks old.  I passed a young man singing in a gorgeous countertenor voice, and then further on, passed those in the seating that is accessible for the disabled.  People in wheelchairs, with physical deformities, and one woman who always comes with her seeing-eye dog.  And a few with huge goin’-to-meetin’ Easter hats, as if the hats, bold in their colors, proclaimed their defiance of the disability. By the time our procession was done, and we were in our places, my tears were interfering with my singing. But this was a hymn, not a performance piece, and it was ok. The tears were good tears. I was here in a place where all were welcomed and accepted. Nothing was as important as this moment.  I was home.