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The Beauty of a Bitterly Cold Sunday Morning, 8 AM

by Garrison Keillor

Posted: February 2, 2023

The world is a mess but dread gets us nowhere so cheer up and then go do what you were put here to do…

Brian Donahoe Photography

The world is a mess but dread gets us nowhere so cheer up and then go do what you were put here to do.

I couldn’t sleep last Saturday night due to anxiety caused by rewinding various lowlights of my long life that hit me like a brick and I lay in bed and watched the hours go by as I contemplated my imminent demise leaving my dependents impoverished and homeless so when the day dawned I put on a suit and coat and I went around the block to the solemn 8 a.m. Mass rather than wait for the more festive 10:30 and walked through the bitter Minnesota cold into St. Mark’s Cathedral where a couple dozen souls sat, widely spaced apart, perhaps to guard against communicable disease, or maybe to avoid the Exchange of Peace after the absolution of our sins.

My sin was dread, anxiety, nameless unreasoning fear, but never mind. I remembered as I came into the cathedral that there is no music at the 8 a.m., no chipper Bach chorale to brighten the mood, no rousing opening hymn, just this scattering of folks in the vastness, like the Church in apostolic times, a few believers hiding out in the catacombs, hoping men in heavy armor don’t break in and bust our heads.

I knelt and prayed for my loved ones, that they be spared my anxiety. I could hear my own voice proclaiming the Nicene Creed, the whole megillah, including the unbelievable part about God coming to earth and becoming incarnate by the Virgin Mary, and it did nothing for the lead in my heart nor, as it turned out, did the homily.

What I found inspiring were two Scripture readings, one from the prophet Micah, where the reader faced the line, “O my people, remember what happened from Shittim to Gilgal that you may know the saving acts of the Lord,” and she slowed down when she saw “Shittim” and got traction and very carefully pronounced it “shi-team.” I was the only one in the sanctuary immature enough to enjoy this moment. There were no 13-year-old boys there, just me. I could tell from her voice that the reader had been dreading this for an hour, trying to decide between “shy-tim” and “shi-team” and fearing that she’d slip and pronounce it phonetically and a marble angel would fall and crash and red lights would flash and people would require treatment for post-traumatic stress.

And then moments later she read from First Corinthians that we do not find God through wisdom. No, God chose what is foolish to shame the wise, for God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. The thought of God’s foolishness is a radical one, seldom mentioned in church, and near me were some highly educated people, including a man who got his Ph.D. in classic philosophy from Harvard and here I sat, a writer of limericks and a lover of juvenile jokes (Knock-knock. “Who’s there?” Eskimo Christians. “Eskimo Christians who?” Eskimo Christians, I’ll tell you no lies.) and when I went forward for Communion I felt foolishly happy. The wafer was not artisanal, the wine too sweet, but I received it with a good and grateful heart.

I went downstairs for coffee. People were gathering for the election of church officers and I joined them. It had been an austere service but it took a big load off my mind, the woman navigating her way around “Shittim” — it’s in the sixth chapter of Micah, look it up — and the words “God’s foolishness” — the playfulness of the Creator of the universe who 13 billion years ago, from a little speck of matter, suddenly produced an infinity of galaxies of which our Milky Way is a small specimen and the solar system turning around our sun is but a kiddie amusement park and our little planet is a jungle gym and hot dog stand.

I sat down and someone said, “Welcome home.” I live in New York but I used to be from here and that was nice. Two candidates for church warden stood and gave brief speeches and I wrote a limerick:

I am not running for warden:
It’s a job I know I’d be bored in,
Running a prison.
My calling is in
Enjoying the journey toward Jordan.

A dreadful night, a cold day, a juvenile joke, I’m a happy man. The Greeks and Romans loved poop jokes: go ahead and google it. The world is a mess but dread gets us nowhere so cheer up and then go do what you were put here to do. I was put here to cheer you up. So smile.

Garrison Keillor © 01.31.23

America's story teller, known for his heartland wit and wisdom, and for many years as the voice of Prairie Home Companion on NPR. For additional columns and postings, subscribe to

Posted: February 2, 2023

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