Saturday, November 15, 2014

Seeing God in a Man I Didn't Know

Not long ago a friend posed a question on Social Media:  How do we discover God's presence in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our cities and in our world?   Although I don't remember if there was any definitive answer, there was a lively conversation, with several ideas presented about how and where to see God's presence, and some side conversations on whether it is more faithful to get busy serving in God's name, or get less busy and find time to listen to neighbors and strangers.

In the meantime, I got a phone call from a woman I had just met a few times.  Her mother had joined the church later in her life.  She had come to our small chapel service on Saturday evenings.  Then, when her health began to fail, a couple from our congregation used to visit her on Sunday afternoons and bring her communion.  Last fall, she died, and so I met her daughter to plan her mother's funeral.

Last week, the daughter called again.  Her husband had died after a struggle with cancer, and she wondered whether we could do his funeral.  She thought we had done such a nice service and luncheon for her mother that she would like to have the service at our church, with me officiating.  Unfortunately, our schedule did not permit us to host the service, but I agreed to officiate, and to meet them at church to plan the service and luncheon.

Sitting in the room that afternoon were his wife, his daughter, his younger brother, and one of his nieces.  When I sat down, and they started talking, one of the first things the niece said was that she and her husband had decided that the day her uncle died, they would honor him by trying to be kind to one another for the whole day.  They didn't quite make it, she said, smiling, but they got close.

The conversation continued.  Kindness was a hallmark of this man's life.  The children remembered that he and his wife always spoke to one another with respect and politeness.  They remembered that their home was a refuge for the family, and for neighborhood children, who were given love and nurturing and fun.  They remembered his love for creation and for creatures.  They had taken in, at various times, various animals both ordinary and exotic, concluding a raccoon that had lived with them for many years.  They remembered his love and his gentleness.

They also spoke about his early life.  It had not been easy.  There was chaos and dysfunction in the family, they said.  But he broke the cycle that he had experienced and created an environment of love.

Later on, his daughter sent me a long email which had originally been written to her dad.  She had been a small child when this man had married her mother, and he had adopted her.  She always felt privileged that he chose her to be his daughter, and he made her feel special.  At the end of the email, she wrote, "My whole life with you has been a gift."

And it dawned on me:  As they were speaking, I sensed God's presence, in them and in their love for one another, and in this man I never really knew.  I saw God, just a glimpse, a crack of light through a door in their lives, left ajar for me.

He never seemed to have much use for church, this man I didn't know.  I think he had been baptized, and had attended as a boy, at least sometimes.

Somehow this made me sad, I confess.  I somehow wished that he had a church, perhaps ours.  Yes, I would have been honored if he had attended our church.  But it is not so much because I thought that he needed us.

No, it made me sad because I think we need him.  We need him to help us to discover God's presence.  We are not so good at seeing.

That is what I think, right now.

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