Monday, February 1, 2010

holy ground

I told this story as the end of my sermon on Sunday. The sermon was on the gospel lesson from Luke when Jesus goes back to Nazareth, his home town, and reads from Isaiah in the Torah and proclaims that the scripture of healing and restoring and bringing the blessing of God is fulfilled.

Then things get dicey. The folks in the synagogue remember Jesus is a hometown boy and what right does he have to speak like God and lecture them on their disbelief? "Isn't he Joseph's son?" the ask each other--where does he come off doing this....? Then they try to throw him off a cliff but he passes through them like fog through the trees and goes on about his work and life.

Then I recalled how Dr. Milchin, who was my doctor as a child, had a son, John Jr., who always went away to school but came back one summer from college and became the laughing stock of the whole community because--before 'running' was seen as something people did for recreation or health--he ran up and down the valleys for hours on end. Everyone laughed at him. "Dr. Milchin's son has a screw loose", they said. "Why doesn't he get a summer job?" they asked. "Who does he think he is?" they wondered while mocking him.

Later I learned John Jr. had been the captain of the Princeton University Cross Country team and was simply training. He went on to be a surgeon and made his GP father proud. But we didn't accept him because we knew him too well...he was too commonplace.

So, as Thomas Wolfe knew, it is hard to 'go home again'.

I went on to observe that we often don't honor those things which are familiar, ordinary and commonplace. We usually look for God in the unusual, the amazing, the exotic and strange. In fact, I believe, God's Glory is present in precisely what is ordinary and familiar, we simply need ears to hear and eyes to see,,,,

As I've often said, the definition I know of 'epiphany' is this: 'the sudden, intuitive insight into the deep down meaning of things, usually prompted by what is ordinary, common-place and day to day...'

Then came this story, that I realized I hadn't blogged about on Sat since it was meant to be the end of my sermon:

C was a member of the church I served in New Haven. She is gracious, loving, competent and committed. Her son was the same age of my son and they played together for five of the years of their lives...from 5 until 10. Eric came to an Easter service a few years ago and he and Josh got to connect for a short while. About three years ago, C, who lives in 'the Valley' started coming to St. John's. I hadn't seen her for months, I realized, and was about to call here when she called me.

Her mother has cancer and Alzheimer's and after months of going down to Brooklyn to visit each weekend, C had moved them to CT--her mother to a nursing home and her father to live with her. She called to ask me to come and pray for her mother and anoint her since her life was slipping away.

I got to the parking lot of the nursing home and C was just getting out of her car. We embraced and moved inside, walking behind an elderly black man with a cane who was walking very slowly. I assumed he was a patient, but when we caught up with him, C introduced me to her father. I thought we'd walk with him but C said we should go on, 'he never wants to slow other people down'.

So we were in C's mother's room for a few minutes before C's father made it. Her mother was very non-responsive, in one of those chairs that look comfortable and adjust but roll as well. I talked to her the way I always talk to people who I don't know can hear me 'cause, what do I know about what they hear?

C's sister was there and when the father got in the room, the sister tried to help him off with his coat, but he slipped past her and moved much faster than before to the chair beside his wife's chair. He flopped down, took her thin, veined hand in his own and lifted her fingers to his lips. I was right across from him and saw the moisture in his large brown eyes.

I should have taken my shoes off, being as I was on Holy Ground. I had enough sense not to say anything for a long time. Finally, softly, I said, "a long time...."

"Seventy years," he said, still holding his wife's unresponsive hand to his cheek.

Then we sat in silence for a long time--eyes open to the holiness and glory of the ordinary moment, the familiarity of two people, the love that was there....

So, don't tell me the Glory of God isn't in the ordinary and familiar. Don't dare tell me that!

I was privileged to sit in the profound silence of the Heart of God and of Love.

This is all I know and all I need to know about the presence of God in the familiar and ordinary and so well-known moments of life:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrong doing, but rejoices in truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.... (I Corinthians 13.4-8a)

Just that moment is enough....

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.