Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"You shall be called my delight"

 You are to be a crown of splendor in the hand of Yahweh.
A princely diadem in the hand of God;
no longer are you to be named “forsaken,” nor your land “abandoned,”
but you shall be called “my delight.”
                                                       Isaiah 62:3-4
Trying to turn left onto 10th Street, in late afternoon traffic, I noticed them through the glass of my windshield: two good looking, twenty-somethings who were clearly in love and most likely sharing habitation.  They carried a huge cloth tote-bag between them filled with groceries – she, holding the handle in her left hand, he, in his right.  Their other hands sported a collection of other house hold items: dry-cleaning, an incredibly large plastic container of spring water, several hand- and book bags. 

They had stopped on the corner waiting for the light to go their way.  He, handsome, trim, bearded, looking confident and alert. She, cute, strong, with an easy way about her that made you think she would be a lot of fun.   He grinned and stretched, working out the cramp in his hand from the heavy bag.  She, tossed her hair and fiddled with it, looking at him coquettishly – there is just no other way to describe it – coquettishly, with slightly slanted eyes.

They were talking only to each other – completely absorbed. Animated features and gestures – lots of smiles, deep laughs, not so much a soulful looking into each other’s eyes, but, instead, an excited and joyous reaching out to each other – light touches on arms, hands – a quick hug around the shoulders, a light brush of hand on cheek.  There was a kind of give and take – two bodies in sync, two hearts giving and receiving , a spontaneous and lovely pas de deux on the mean streets of ATL.

Perhaps it’s just the gossamer beauty of this particular spring, maybe the fragile lightness of the pink and white blossoms that surround us on all sides that enabled me to see the amazing wonder of the two of them – I could not stop watching this silent tableau of young love in bloom.  They were delighted with each other – they took great delight  in each other- took it with gusto, with both hands, with souls and bodies, as it were, with deep and gushing joy! They were delightful to behold!  

They were, indeed,  beautiful in their friendship – reminding me of a wonderful snippet from a poem by Khalil Gibran – “and in the sweetness of friendship, let there be laughter and the sharing of pleasures,  for in the dew of little things, the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.”

Have you ever felt this way?  Ah, if you have not, I feel dreadful sorry for ye, as my Irish ancestors would say.  There is nothing like that feeling, of being in sync, two pendula swinging as one, balance, counterbalance, completely in harmony, abounding with joy!

Aelred of Rievaulx, a 12th century English monk, would have recognized them immediately. Among other scholarly works, he wrote a brief treatise called “spiritual friendship” in which he made the case that true friendship between people is a mirror of the friendship that God desires with every one of us. Aelred, quite the romantic, would have easily drawn the connection with the delight these two lovers enjoyed, to the delight that God has for us – the delight that God takes in each and every one us, something, indeed, that is delightful – to behold in ourselves and in all those others, whom God has created in God’s delightful image!

Trying to turn left on 10th Street – a very unlovely activity – I was treated to a little glimpse of love delighted  - and a reminder that we are no longer called forsaken, or the land which is abandoned, by “God’s delight.”

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sunday Sightings

It’s early – around 7 AM. Daylight Savings Time has begun, so the light is wrong for this time of day, but folks are, as usual, already up and about in Midtown.  I pull up to the traffic light at the intersection of Pine and Courtland.  One left turn will take me to the back entrance of my church and the start of a usual Sunday of feverish activity between now and early afternoon. 

At the top of the incline in the next block of Pine Street, I see a school bus, bilious green, sitting with its door open and motor running.  There is just one word recorded in the scrolling sign on the front, showing the destination for today: JESUS.   Lots of guys in rough clothing, toting small bags, are climbing in.  All of them on their way to JESUS.   

No doubt they’ll get a hot breakfast, some heated preachifying, maybe a warm blessing and a cold sandwich for later. I don’t blame them a bit for going along –even if it’s only for the ride.  Folks will be coming to my church for the same thing in just a little while – only there’ll be no sandwich forthcoming for them.

I have this thought: “could it be that simple?” Just get on the bus and go to JESUS? No letters of transfer, no instruction classes no wondering if I will fit in, be dressed right, be getting myself in too deep – getting myself  into something that I can’t get out of later?   Just get on the bus.

 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” 
Matthew 11:28-30

Friday, March 11, 2011

Love bears all things

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things… And now, faith, hope and love abide, these three, and the greatest of these is love. I Corinthians 13:7, 12

Yesterday, I visited one of our members and her husband at their home.  He’s been diagnosed with a terminal disease and is experiencing a steady increase in dementia as his body systems shut down. Hospice care is in place and it’s only a matter of time.   
It’s been about three weeks since I saw him last and she confirms my first impression. The nurse has been here already today –not to provide any therapy or treatment, there’s nothing now, that will provide any improvement.  He comes to check on her husband and let her know the status of things – and things, she tells me, are heading south fast.

These two have always made a fun and active couple, even lately, in their early 70’s. He’s a retired church musician, who has a wonderful sense of humor, a strong bass voice and an insightful mind.  Now, he spends most of his day in a wheelchair, offering random comments unconnected to the reality that the rest of us are experiencing.  He’s unable to care for himself in the slightest way.

We sat together for a while in their pretty living room.  She and I exchanged some heartfelt words, sotto voce, so as not to disturb his ramblings. Her husband is slowly drifting away, literally, falling into sleep in his chair without a moment’s notice.  But truly, he is moving farther and farther away into an idiosyncratic place way beyond the horizon we might share with him.

But it’s still him, all right.  A vestige, a faithful remnant of this gracious, witty and charming man is still quite visible.  Hidden in the jumble of each confused utterance were several of his characteristic turns of phrase.  Parsing the words, you could get an inkling of his tendency for humorous observation and an echo of his typical funny and incisive repartee.

“I am fascinated by what comes out of his mouth” his wife confessed – softly, once again, so as not to let him hear.  She knows he’s dying, and prefers, she says, to “deal with it intellectually.” She has decided to observe it all, quietly, almost exegetically, drawing from each day’s experience deeper understanding, some deeper realization about herself, about him, about life, love and faith.

He is still very sweet, as he always was – although sometimes anxiety and disorientation move him into a child-like petulance.  He can still show love and receive love, though.  But precious moments of connection are giving way to more difficult encounters.  It’s as if they are together on a see-saw that is tipping perilously close to dumping them onto the dirt.
But her equanimity, her abiding patience and love remain intact – no, strong, stalwart, incredibly so, in the face of more and more serious challenges each day.  He falls moving the six inches from his bed to the wheelchair, and she can’t lift him.  Like most neighborhoods these days, no one, especially someone with a strong back, is at home to help her.  His terror glues his hands to the bedside table, the wheels of the chair, like an iron vise.  He cannot participate in his own recovery. 

She must bathe, feed, toilet and clothe him – this once strong, handsome man who was, truly, her knight in shining armor.  She clings to sweet memories of wonderful trips, stimulating conversations and sassy debates, fantastic parties, just sitting on the porch with a drink in the late afternoon watching the sun go down.  These days will not ever return for them.

Yet not one trace of bitterness or self-pity is in evidence.  Only wonder and gratitude that she is privileged – her word, privileged – to be as much an intimate part of his dying as she has been of his living.

“You are in the midst of a rarified, a sanctified time” I stammer – trying to convey that I understand—that I get what she’s telling me.  I want her to know that I can truly see that this is a holy time and place.  She nods, knowing in her full being, what I have only gotten a tiny glimpse of.

Later, I know quite fully that in their presence, I’ve been on holy ground. The words of the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians, rise unbidden, as I reflect on the visit.

In that home, were certainly, amazing faith and undaunted hope – pressed down, overflowing, expressed, unselfconsciously, in an abundant display.

But the greatest thing of all in that place was love… that “greater love” that Jesus talked about – the irrational kind, that empowers you to lay down give your life for a friend’s – and have it all make sense… that greater love, that enables you to lay it down, not with a false martyr’s hubris,  but with true gracefulness  ­- that gift of unearned, unmerited steadfast love, no strings attached.

Although we can only ever, in this life, see, “as through a glass darkly” – yesterday, I came face to face with the love of Christ, embodied, outpoured, in a pretty living room on an overcast spring day.  Thanks be to God!