When I was a little girl, grand old Episcopal ladies wore hats and gloves to church. They sported red lipstick and powdered their soft, wrinkly cheeks. They smelled like gardenias. They drank brandy before dinner. Or Mogen David. Or mint juleps.
They called you “Dearie” if you were good, or “Young Lady” if you were bad. They often called me “Young Lady.” When surprised, they waved their lace hankies and exclaimed, “Of all things!” They were easily surprised.
I grew up hearing these old dames exclaiming “Of all things!” whenever I did a variety of things that made a great deal of sense to me. “Of all things!” they exclaimed when I insisted that Daddy let me wear my pink, ruffled dress to church with my blue jeans, boots, cowboy hat, and toy guns and holster. (My mother was sick in bed. Daddy had to dress me all by himself.) “Of all things!” they exclaimed when I knocked out Tommy G. with the butt of my gun in the nursery that day. Coldcocked him clean. Was immensely proud of myself because I’d seen The Lone Ranger do it on TV. “Of all things!” they exclaimed when I tipped my cowboy hat to the priest at the Communion rail.
I heard old ladies say “Of all things!” so often that I was not surprised when I realized that our Nicene Creed used the same exclamation. God’s ability to be both visible and invisible was at least as astonishing as my ability to knock out Tommy G. So of course, the creed said of God: “And of all things! Visible and invisible!”
I knew the creed by memory by the time I was three-and-a-half. I would stand on the pew between my mother and father and quietly say the creed with them. They never paid me any attention until one Sunday when I felt compelled to speak out and use the correct inflection when I spoke those words. Like the grand old dames often said about me, I loudly declared in perfect astonished imitation, “And of all things! Visible and invisible!”
My mother started to snicker. She bit her lip, threw her hand over her mouth, and started to rock. My father snorted. Then he started shaking. Then he bellowed with laughter, and she erupted in hysterics. The next thing I knew, tears were running down their cheeks, and they had completely lost control of themselves. They grabbed me up and flew out of church. They didn’t even stay for Communion. Instead, they hauled me into the car and drove to the Busy Bee Café for an early lunch, howling every bit of the way. “Drive faster!” my mother cried to my father. “I’m going to wet myself!”
All through our dinner, my parents would try to gain control of themselves and then start snorting and howling again. I was embarrassed by this surprising behavior. In order to try to get them under control, I put my hands on my hips and said, “Well! Of all things!” That was not helpful.
They wouldn’t tell me what they thought was so funny. For years, they looked at each other over my head when I reiterated that part of the creed. Not until I was old enough for confirmation did my father tell me that I’d misunderstood the creed all those years. “Of all things, visible and invisible” was saying that God was the creator of everything: both things that were visible, like dogs, and teacups, and little girls; and things that were invisible, like powers and principalities, such as guardian angels, and saints, and Heaven. And like forgiveness and love.
Sixty years later, I have realized that although Daddy was right, so was I. My three-year-old interpretation was accurate. Yes, God is Lord of all the visible universe. And He is Lord of all the invisible powers and principalities. But he is both visible and invisible. He is invisible in His Love and Forgiveness. And he is visible in the life force of little girls who wear cowboy outfits with their ruffled dresses, coldcock little boys with gunstocks, and tip their hats to priests at the Communion rail. Well, of all things!