LESLIE CRISS: Burning palm taught lesson in obeying rules

By Leslie Criss/NEMS Daily Journal

“Something’s burning …”
– Mac Davis

“If there’s smoke, there must be fire.”
– Anonymous

More than a decade ago, I spent a year working at the newspaper just up the road in Booneville. While there, I wrote a story about an Episcopal priest friend of mine in Corinth.
The day after the story’s publication, I received a call from a woman who asked if I were an Episcopalian.
“Yes, ma’am,” I told her.
“Well, you people are strange,” she said. “And except for you, we don’t have any in Booneville. We didn’t let the Catholics in here until just a few years ago.”
I remembered what my Southern Baptist grandmother used to tell me, “You can catch more flies with honey.” I bit my tongue and sweetly told the woman how happy I was to be working in a town known for its hospitality.
I wanted to tell her that in the big picture, we’re all fellow strugglers and that if we’d concentrate more on our similarities than on our differences, well, what a wonderful world it could be.

Today is Palm Sunday. A memory of one long-ago Palm Sunday has been burned into my brain.
My friend and I had just stepped over the line into our teens and we thought we knew everything.
When the palms to be used in our procession from the parish house to the church were blessed by the priest, we took the younger folks in the choir aside to instruct them on proper palm etiquette.
“Hold them still as you walk down the aisle. Don’t stick them in anyone’s eyes or nose. Don’t pretend they are swords. When you get into the choir loft, place the palms in the hymn rack and don’t mess with them again until it’s time to leave the sanctuary.”
We possessed such an air of authority, I could have sworn I noticed some of those choir kids trembling in their patent leathers.
That we were all probably singing a different verse of “All Glory, Laud and Honor” as our procession commenced didn’t matter. Some of our Baptist brethren, late for church just down the block, swerved on Main Street as they tried to figure out what we strange Episcopalians were doing this time.
Once we entered the church and started toward the choir loft, all our palm pontifications flew right out the stained glass windows – at least my friend’s did.
Passing her parents’ pew, she whacked her brother on the head with her palm branch. As she pulled the palm back to her shoulder, the tip touched the taper decorating the pew.
Her smoldering palm left a snaking trail of smoke that hovered above the heads of the congregation as each member tried to stifle laughter.
Just as we got to our seats, an acolyte saved the day when he grabbed the now-flaming palm and stomped out the fire.
At the end of the service, the blessed palms were turned in. They would be burned later, the ashes used for the following year’s Ash Wednesday services.
All, that is, except for one prematurely parched palm.

Contact Leslie Criss at leslie.criss@ journalinc.com or (662) 678-1584.

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