A family holy enough to merit the highest forms of reverence.
After what seemed like forever, a crackling loudspeaker announced that due to technical difficulties, the car would not begin moving for some time. The herd of humanity surrounding me heaved a common sigh of grievance. A stranger’s clammy arm pressed against the back of my head, a stranger’s sharp umbrella poked me in the side, and a stranger’s broad back bore the weight of my protruding shoulder. When I inhaled, the expansion of my body pushed into everyone around me. When they exhaled, a part of me deflated. We were so tightly packed that every movement, every cough, every futile attempt to scratch an unreachable itch directly affected everyone else in the car.
Finally, we did begin to move—ten feet at a time, lurching and then grinding to an abrupt halt again and again while we strangers of unusual intimacy stood together, unable to grasp protectively at our purses, unable to make snap judgments about each other, unable to support ourselves with anything but the bodies of the people around us. As the car moved in its jerking dance, first we all fell to the right, then the left. Forward and backward we fell, always into one another. And right there, through some bizarre grace, in a hot and none-too-fragrant subway car, I felt my lonely self held up, buoyed by an unbidden and unplanned force of humanity. I felt the presence of the holy. Right there—in the smelly, crowded, hot, and inconvenient midst of life—I felt held.
And though I could not move to look too far in any direction, I heard the voice of the man next to me say simply, “Well we’s all family now.” Yeah, we’s all family now, the mass of humanity laughed together. It takes this, but we’s all family now. Not exactly Mary and Joseph and little baby Jesus, but a holy family nonetheless. A common one. A human one. An un-shiny and un-perfect one. The family of humanity, worn and broken and healing and hoping, is the only holy family I have ever encountered face-to-face, or arm-to-arm, or back-to-elbow. It is a family holy enough to merit the highest forms of reverence.
Reprinted with permission from With or Without Candelight: Meditations, edited by Victoria Safford, © 2009 Skinner House.
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The Rev. Nancy McDonald Ladd is senior minister of River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bethesda, Maryland.
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Looking back on my summers spent at a beloved Unitarian Universalist retreat.
We cannot hear unless there is silence.