Sunday Morning ~ Making Our Own Dust; A First Communion Thought
Pa gule pfumbi ndiwe mwini. ~ At a dance you, yourself, have to produce the dust.
~ Chewa proverb
July 18, 2021
A dance in Malawi is a dusty affair in the dry season. Dances are energetic, passionate, theatrical, and joyful. I love to dance. I love moving to the music and wish I did it more often. I sway in church, tap on the steering wheel, bounce at a concert. Depending on a partner is something I’ve learned not to do. I love this notion of making my own dust. It speaks of self-care and inner spirit. Which brings me to…rosary beads.
Yesterday was Amelia’s First Communion. I sat next to her in the church missing my mom, knowing how important this was to her. My mom, wouldn’t have said that, though. She would never have declared that she had a need or desire. She never articulated how her faith helped her survive or how she cherished the community she gained from it. She’d expect you to know that inherently. In her generation choices were few; rituals and traditions were not questioned. I doubt she would have listed the good she gained from those rituals but they were everything to her. She kept her wisdom sheltered along with her affections. It was survival.
When I learned Amelia’s First Communion would happen this summer, having been postponed a year, I started thinking about a gift for my eight year old granddaughter. I wanted something meaningful but also perhaps, useful. I’d wanted to make her First Communion dress, but she’d already picked one out and my daughter had purchased it. My hand-me-down First Communion dress was a bit of a disappointment. I wanted puffy sleeves and skirt, and veil with a crown. Instead, I wore my cousin’s beautiful straight-sleeved embroidered dress. The veil had a band of silk flowers, which were also beautiful, but it did feel like my only chance to ever wear a crown was slipping away. I remember feeling beautiful.
When I was clearing out the space for my summer tenant, I found a box of things I’d moved out of my mother’s apartment after she died. There was a satin lined jewelry box holding a few inexpensive necklaces, lapel pins, and a set of pink plastic rosary beads. There was a lapel pin, a gold butterfly with a body of three pearls. I didn’t think Amelia would wear a lapel pin, but could imagine it settled into Amelia’s golden curls and hoped she’d let me do her hair. I set about creating a beaded barrette with the butterfly perched on top. I looked at the rosary beads and thought, though they weren’t the delicate white First Communion kind, but they were pretty and my mother had saved them. That meant something. I cleaned out the box, and placed them back in the satin covered nook. I don’t know where my mother got them; a gift? Maybe purchased outside a religious site somewhere? The nice ones she used for her own contemplation, comfort, and serenity were buried with her, draped around her once graceful fingers. I wanted to give the pink ones to Amelia, not sure if she’d appreciate their meaning. She never knew my mother, but I wanted to tell her story and explain how much this cord of prayer beads was part of her life. My mother wasn’t a women who knelt alone and said the rosary every day (that I know of), but she would hold them in church and pray when I was young. It comforted me somehow to see her do this. She looked peaceful, a rarity in those years.
When I was learning to say the rosary around my First Communion, when we traditionally got our own set, it was all about saying the right prayer on the right bead. I remember worrying I might screw that up resulting in some tragedy. The rosary is not part of preparation for this sacrament now and when Amelia opened them up yesterday morning, she held them up not sure what they were. I explained they belonged to her great grandmother, who used them like worry beads. I told her I wanted her to have them because my mother, who Amelia is named after, had a hard life and these beads helped her cope. She would say a prayer on each bead and sometimes just rub them around in her hand. They made her feel better. I told Amelia I wanted her to have them and if she were ever worried or troubled she could hold them and remember someone loved her all the time, no matter what. I said, “It might make you feel better remembering that.” She smiled and rubbed them around in her hand.
Then I started thinking about these beads. Chanting is a part of many cultures, a comfort and tool for reflection and insight. Saying ten Hail Mary’s might be similar. I hadn’t thought of this before. The times I’ve said the rosary in a group my focus was on how my knees hurt. At the mass yesterday the priest asked people to either stand, sit, or kneel, whichever was most comfortable. I thought, how sweet. What progress. We got scolded by nuns for putting our feet on the kneelers because it might dirty our dresses. Our elbows were not allowed on the pew when we prayed. Posture was emphasized. Discipline. Doing it right. I wonder what it would have felt like if someone had said, “Here, rub these if you get scared and you might feel better knowing someone cares about you.” or “Stand, sit, or kneel, whichever is most comfortable for prayer.”
Amelia liked the barrette. She let me brush and curl her hair. She donned her dress and shoes. We went to the church, where Zack, (her godfather) gave her a nice set of white rosary beads. In the pew, she took them out and held them in her hands, fingering all the beads. A few minutes into the mass, she turned to me and said in the faintest whisper, “I’m afraid to go up there.” meaning the altar, which was imposing, I admit. I told her her parents would be going with her; she would not be alone. I said, “I was afraid at my First Communion, too.” She nodded and rubbed the beads in her hand, let the chain drop down from her fingers, looped around her palm and rubbed the beads one by one between her fingers, just like my mother. She smiled up at me as if she found the secret of them and I choked back a sob.
I’ve been asking myself why I connected the dancing to this chain of prayer beads. I think it’s because I value having inner strength to go it alone. Having this…tool? Is that the right word? “Charm” seems too flimsy, but something you can hold, put memory and meaning to, that helps you cope on your own, be less dependent. It feels less lonely when lonely times come. Amelia dances when she wants, all alone, joyful, because no one has told her she shouldn’t. It feels connected somehow.
Love to all,