Monday. I like Mondays at St. John's. Not a lot is scheduled to happen. Lots of priests take Mondays off, but not me--I love coming in and being around when nothing much is scheduled to happen. A priest who once worked for me told me "you do nothing better than anyone I've ever known." We're no longer close (more the pity) but things happen. And we must have been pretty close when she told me that because she saw through my facade and discovered a deep truth about me. I actually enjoy 'doing' nothing, just 'being' around. Sometimes people call me and begin by saying, "I know you're busy..." and I interrupt to say, "no I'm not, I've just been hanging around waiting for your call...." It puts them off stride so I wave it away and ask how they are and why they're calling such a busy man....
Priests are past masters of seeming 'busy'. I think it is because 'being a priest' goes against all the stuff we were told at our parents' knees and by the educational system and the whole ambiance of our culture. "Busy" passes in our culture for 'important'. And if you're not busy doing something, well, what do you hope to accomplish? I think we as priests are a bit embarrassed by how little we have to 'do', like work. So we fill our schedules with meetings and gatherings and busy work and not-so-busy-work to justify being paid. I have a classmate who left Virginia Seminary in 1975, along with me, and went to a church in Florida--just across some body of water from Cape Kennedy where he can sit in his back yard and watch the shuttles and other rocket things launch. He stayed there until a few years ago when he retired (he was only in our seminary for one year because he was a RC priest for years then left and married a woman with five children). He was in one place his entire ministry as an Episcopal priest. I talked to him several years ago when I visited about 30 of my classmates on a sabbatical to catch up with what had happened since we all left Virginia Seminary.
He told me this: "priests are the only people in the culture who are paid to 'do' nothing. We just wait around waiting for someone to need us....and if we aren't there when the call comes, we aren't doing our job...."
Anyway, I did go to a nursing home today to have a Eucharist. There has, over the 20 years, always been someone in the parish who could play piano who went with me to the three nursing homes each month so we could sing. I go to two now since one closed (more the pity) and though I used to dread going to the nursing homes (it is a momento mori to visit such places)I always enjoyed it once I got there. Its only been a few years since I finally understood why I liked going to nursing homes. It's because it puts me among people who 'really' do nothing. I understand that about them and I realize that just being around waiting is a ministry and a life in and of itself. And to them, when the pianist and I arrive, it is like the call on Monday morning that I've been waiting for. And I love them--these old people who used to be older than I am by quite a bit than they are now. They are mostly sweet and gentle and so pleased that we are there even if they have no idea what we're doing. I like that. It is a real triumph of human life to be pleased with what's happening when you have no idea what it is....Ponder that under your castor oil tree...
One lady at this nursing home waves at me all during the service. she waves when I'm praying or reading the gospel or celebrating communion or singing. She just waves and crosses herself whenever I cross myself. One of the Recreational directors once asked me if it distracted me. "No," I told her, 'it keeps me focused..." I mostly wave back all during all the things I'm doing.
When I give communion at the nursing home I intinct the wafer and put it on people's tongues--or tiny pieces of wafer if they have trouble swallowing. I say "the Body and Blood of Christ" and, instead of "Amen" they almost always say--even the ones who seem out of it altogether, not even able to wave--"thank you...."
I don't know, if there is ever a new prayerbook we should have people respond to the sacrament by saying 'thank you'. It's a polite thing and makes a lot of sense. I've decided when I'm retired and go to eucharist I'll say 'thank you' to the Body and to the Blood and to the ones who bring it to me. It just seems right.
When I'm retired I could write a chapter in a book about going to nursing homes. I think I will. I'll give you a preview....
Once when I was giving communion at a nursing home there was a woman with wild hair and no teeth and a lot of energy--she was tied in her wheel chair else she would have escaped to God knows where. I came to her and dipped the wafer and held it out and said, "The Body and Blood of Christ."
She stared at me like she was crazy (which she was) or like I was crazy (which isn't far from true) and said: "YOU'RE CHRIST?" real loud, like I wrote it.
"No", I told her, "this is the Body and Blood of Christ..."
She said, even louder 'YOU'RE CHRIST....' like she meant it, like it might be true.
I tried two more times and she said the same thing louder and louder until I noticed an orderly about to come over. So I said, under my breath, "I'm Christ" and she opened her mouth and took the sacrament and said, softly, "Thank you...."
So you read this whole thing--the second day of my writing knowing in April I'm retiring.
I could say, 'YOU'RE CHRIST', which wouldn't be as far off as you might think.
But, instead, I'll just say, "Thank you..." Not a bad thing to say in any circumstance....
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