Meeting Jesus

Today has been your typical American pastoral day, in some ways. It has been full. There were significant encounters with a few people, and passing meetings with more. There were two many minutes spent staring at a screen and communicating in a way that the Evangelists might have less-than-approved. Who knows?

Two moments stood out.

One was a conversation with the son of one of the finest priests of the diocese who has served all his priesthood here, and now lies in his home, cared for gently by hospice. He did not move or open his eyes while his son and I stood around him and spoke, but his spirit of caring love and pastoral intelligence filled the space. Big hearts do that, even when they are low.

The second was a visit to a parishioner. She is a wonderful lady in her mid-80’s who, as I told her today, is more active in these years though limited by age and illness than are many of us who are younger and more able to get around. She has just come home from a week in the hospital; a week by the way, in which she and her roommate became good friends and by the end of which the other woman was expressing a wish to join us at Saint Anselm’s. File that under true and natural evangelism/evangelization.

This morning I brought this dear lady communion at home. We heard Sunday’s Gospel, stopped to converse (!), prayed the Lord’s Prayer, and then she received Christ where he must feel very much at home. Then the most extraordinary and yet seamless thing happened.

My hostess told me that she belongs to the Order of Saint Luke the Physician and asked if I would mind if she prayed for me, laid hands on me, and anointed me? I replied that I would not mind at all. Her question grew from the fact of my ‘bum’ knee, currently awaiting the healing hand of one of Luke’s heirs in the trade.

With this, she opened her prayerbook and prayed. I leaned in and she laid hands on my head and prayed. I lifted my brow and she prayed and anointed me with a fragrant oil, apologizing then that she had applied too much. Instead, I would applaud her sacramental sense: let the sign speak!

All this from start to finish took maybe two minutes, two of the most moving minutes of 35 years of ordained ministry. I can put it this way, and then leave it there: I brought Jesus, as I am ordained to do. And lo, I found him already there, in prayer, and aching to heal.

Can I hear an Amen?

Old Friends. New Blessings.

Last evening, deep into vacation, I drove two hours to spend some time with old friends. There I was reunited and talked and laughed and shared a marvelous meal with two families that I met first through the husbands and fathers thereof, and through them came to know and cherish their amazing spouses and wonderful children.

Somehow, most of five years had passed since we were last together.  This was hard to believe, though on reflection easy enough to understand, as those have been the years I have migrated to New York and worked on resettling and renewing.

I value friendship above almost all else.  And there really is something particular about old friends.  There is something special about those friends whom you may not see for months or years at a time, through months and years of change and challenge and God-knows-what-else.  But when you do come together once more – and you know what I am going to say – it is as if you have been in one another’s company all along.

And in a way, you have.  You have carried them in your heart.  And there, the passage of time does not rob.  It only enriches.  It reveals the deeper gifts that take time to unfold, be made known, and mature.  It reveals just what a treasure these people are.

Last evening reminded me of something that I have long believed.  People, men and women and children, human beings: these are real sacraments of the presence of God. These, together, are genuine icons of the face of Christ.  They are no less precious than that.

Today, as though to remind me that God’s generosity is never exhausted and that God is always giving, I was privileged to accompany a friend to an important appointment.  The bond that makes that accompaniment possible is strong.  The experience of being together is transforming.

We make one another more human, by the connections forged between and among us, and allowed to strengthen – even in the background – over the years.  I bless all those tangibles and intangibles that draw us closer to one another.  May our eyes and ears be always open to see and hear them, and to let them work in our hearts, remaking them again and again.







At the terminal

Sunday evening, March 7

I’m in Terminal A at Logan Airport, waiting with a Dunkin Donuts hot chocolate and a bunch of other tired-looking humans. I’m expecting a friend who works at Duke, flying home to New England as that school begins spring break.

I actually like the airport. It is a little bit of time outside of time, place outside of place. It doesn’t belong to any part of life except moments of transition and passage, major or minor. We’re either making those transitions ourselves, or helping others to make them. When you’re the helper, this time feels made for contemplation, for assessing where I was before I reached the ‘terminal,’ – for the moment, in the world’s original sense, ‘the end,’ the termination of the journey. In a small way, a visit here is a stepping aside, not unlike a retreat, though minimized. Where have I come from? Where is the journey taking me? Do I have a sense of movement, of purpose, of proceeding toward a goal?

It also invites reflection on humanity. The people passing by, pulling luggage, waiting around a baggage belt, sitting together looking at a laptop screen: who are they? Where is their journey taking them? Will our paths cross again, perhaps more significantly than they do this evening? Each and every one of them matters in the sight of God. Do they matter in my sight? Do I really ‘see’ them at all? Especially in comparision to the Eye of the All-Compassionate, All-Understanding One?

And this is a place of order. Everything has a place and is in that place. Every person, every bag, every scrap of identifying, enabling paper. And if anything is out of place, disordered, there is a place to put it in its lack of order: Lost Baggage, Oversize Baggage, Lost Objects, even lost children. Everything is screened. Announcements encourage the keeping of order in every fashion. In the face of all this it’s no wonder that these are places into which those often called ‘terrorists’ choose to sow massive disorder, even chaos. In this setting, that break in the ordered and expected feels harder and heavier than elsewhere. That chaos gives a new and darker meaning to the word ‘terminal.’

So here I sit, obviously thinking too much. I see my reflection in the massive windows facing the street. I’m unclear, but visible. Beyond the world moves at its usual break-neck pace. Out there the retreat is suddenly over. Back into time, and behind time. Back into place and onward we go.