It was less common to live nearly a century when my Great-Grandmother died in the mid 1980s. With her one blind eye, Scottish burr and crooked fingers, Jemina MacGergor was spooky to me even though the things she talked about were pretty vanilla. She’d seen the world change so much that I was forever hoping she would have something profound to say about it. After all, she began her life riding around in a horse and buggy and she didn’t finish it before watching a man step on the moon. Unfortunately, the most profound thing I ever heard her say was that she only wanted tea served in a china cup.
Now past the midway mark of a century I think about the times in which I have lived. In college I hand wrote all of my papers before typing them on a word processor. Now we have better phones than Captain Kirk had on the Star Trek Enterprise, I can spit in a tube and find out where my ancestors were living three hundred years ago and we’re planning a trip to Mars. If anything, the world has sped up more since Jemina MacGregor died.
Do I have anything profound to say about it? Not a word. And now as we all live through a once in a century pandemic, another record fire and hurricane season and face a presidential election that will definitely be contested if the incumbent doesn’t win and might result in violence on a scale no one can predict, I still have nothing profound to say that rises to the occasion of this particular moment. It surprises me that even now I still wonder about whether we need laundry detergent at home and when to convene a property meeting to discuss installing a doorbell that works in the church office.
Maybe it’s because, as I look at the gathering storm, my bones tell me as a parent and priest one of my main jobs is to find solid ground on which my church and family can stand no matter what happens next. Part of that is making sure dinner’s on the table at 7pm and morning prayer starts at 9am. The other part is finding a tether: something to grab ahold of that I already know is well anchored, not rigging up something new and hoping it lasts.
I went to see Jorge from church last tonight. A bomb went off in his family when his sister-in-law died unexpectedly last January leaving her husband and their two, little boys devastated. Jorge talked about how his hope used to be for heaven, where everything will finally get sorted out and made right, but now Jorge can’t wait that long. His brother and nephew’s need is too urgent, as is the world’s. Jorge said, “Now I know that my work is to bring heaven down to earth.”
This is what I want to be able to say to my great-grandchildren and to the church that comes after us about these times: Astonishing, excruciating, infuriating and wondrous things happened. We were gob smacked one day, crying with joy or grief or fear the next and immediately afterwards we all tried to remember if we had vegetables at home to make dinner. That’s because we were just human and didn’t understand what these times meant. Only God does.
The only thing that made sense of those times was our response to them. As the church we tried to follow Jesus. We loved the least, our enemies, the stranger and one another so fiercely in act and word that even in those terrible times, heaven was forced to touch fingertips with earth.
And because of that, for the sake of the one who left heaven to be with us, we’d do it all over again.