Do you open your hearts/souls/minds to experience God in the unexpected? I often preach that, but rarely do I listen to the preacher – and then last week happened.
As I sat in St. Gabriel’s Catholic Church last Friday morning preparing for the funeral of Bill Rowe’s mom, I was summoned by this elderly woman who asked me to sit with her. I recognized (from mom) the “looking-through-you” gaze: she may be in the midst of dementia, I suspect. We sort of talked a few moments. Then her attendant came for her (they had been present for the early morning mass at the church) and asked me if I would give Rose (her name) a blessing because “today is her birthday and she is 101.” Rose became so peace-filled and grateful afterwards. God taught me that I needed to be there at that moment.
Sunday afternoon I came to St. John’s just to make sure the storm had done no unexpected damage. I brought Abby, our border collie, with me. Later as I trudged into the cold and snow behind Lawrence Hall, I let Abby off leash, and watched her fly and leap into and out of snow – hearing at one point one loud bark of sheer joy. God wanted me to know that there is joy in situations that we often find annoying.
So on Feb. 17 and March 2, I must have cataract surgeries, and, of course, I am trying to control every event that could possibly occur during these next weeks of pre- and post-op instructions which are putting me “on the bench”: much to my annoyance! So what is God going to show or teach me next? What do I need to learn? And does this happen to you? And what do you need to learn?
This weekend, America will attempt to honor the memory of a truly great leader, prophet and martyr to the cause of civil and human rights. A part of me wishes the schools were not closed but rather students of every age spent the day learning about Dr. King and the cause of racial justice and equality. More than just listen, I wish we could all open our minds and hearts and truly speak to one another about the issues that still tear at this nation.
As a priest, I do not interest myself in or preach from any political perspective. (The only political truth I would share with you is that probably 95% of the time, my wife JoAnne and my vote on most issues cancel one another out.) I view race and racial justice (and the lack thereof) strictly from moral principles drawn from Holy Scripture and from our Baptismal Covenant that demands that I “respect the dignity of every human being.” I know that as a nation, we have yet to come close to Dr. King’s vision of judging one another “not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” The events of the past two years have made this so painfully clear.
This weekend – I invite you. I challenge you. Come to either service at St. Paul’s (Saturday 5 p.m.) or St. John’s (Sunday 9:30 a.m.). Hear the voice of this great prophet. It will challenge. It will make you uncomfortable. It will force you, if you are honest, to deal with issues of privilege that are associated with color and culture. Are you prepared to listen, truly listen, to a voice crying in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord?
The start of a new calendar year! You might expect a pep talk about making “resolutions” but truthfully, I put little stock in such things. Those among us who do not need to lose “a few ugly pounds” or to “eat healthier” or “exercise more often” “go to Church more often” or “spend more time with the family” are most likely few!
And we try. And we usually don’t. Every Saturday O.A. meets at our Church. The first Saturday of the year the church parking lot is filled to overflowing. In a few weeks, it will not be. (Not a judgment – it’s an observation made over four years.)
Might I offer you the challenge I give to myself: make no “resolutions” but rather make a pledge or commitment before God. If there is one aspect (just keep it to one) that needs to be transformed, then open yourself to God’s “redeeming grace” and commit yourself to this one action or thing. Pray for strength to do (or avoid doing) this one thing .. each day. One day at a time. One hour at a time, if necessary. And know that your commitment has been heard and will be expected of you. But you will, with God walking along side you, do it.
So we begin 2016. Happy New Year!