A few hours before the graveside committal service for my father, I was
on my knees, cleaning the bathroom. I remember wondering why every
major occasion of celebration or loss seemed to involve scrubbing the
bathroom to the standard of a royal inspection. Before our daughters’
weddings, sparkling sinks became almost as vital as the right dress.
(And, heaven forbid, should any of their marriages fail, the cause
might well be traced back to the substandard cleanliness of the
facilities upon the day of consecration.)
on the day of my father’s burial, I was hoping that life, perhaps out
of respect for the occasion, might dial down the noise.
wanted to honour my father in quiet solitude, be emotionally focused
without distraction and retain a clear view of what really mattered.
The hope was simple, perhaps even simplistic sentimentality, but I
recognized it within.
Earlier that morning, I came close to
realizing my hope. Driving to pick up another course of dainties for
the reception following the service, I saw a giant uninhabited eagle’s
nest sitting atop a telephone poll overlooking the Columbia River. I
had noticed it before. This morning, though, it looked deserted. The
patriarch eagle that guarded the nest and scouted the terrain was gone.
Part of me thought, “Now there’s an appropriate symbol.” My spirit began to hum, “And I shall raise you up on eagle’s wings.”
also came close when standing beside the graveside. Like many
cemeteries in British Columbia, the Mountain View Cemetery sits in a
beautiful valley with spectacular mountains surrounding it. On this
July morning, the sun flamed bright in a clear sky, and a vast array of
green covered the surrounding hillsides. “Perfect!” I thought, “An
uncluttered setting in which to recognize the sacredness of this time.”
My thinking was deep into Psalm 121 — “I lift up my eyes to the
hills, from where does my help come?” — when an 18-wheeler downshifted
and obliterated not only the spoken words of the prayer being offered
but my own inner litany.
Decades ago, when my father’s family
purchased the burial plots, the road was hardly more than a two-lane
track. Now, this idyllic pastoral scene featured fully loaded
semi-trailers braking down the hill and screaming four-cylinder cars
For a moment I was annoyed. The cadence of the
prayers, Scripture readings and offered memories were broken. The
picture-perfect greeting-card image of a holy moment frayed.
I remembered who I was and some of the stories that shape me. A
Christian view of where the sacred may be found displaced lingering
pop-spirituality images that seek only peaceful, easy feelings.
I reframed the day.
my chafing at bathroom duty, I recalled the story of Jesus, who also
knelt to clean. He did not seem to think his chores distanced him from
God or were an obstacle to communion. In fact, the opposite seemed
Scriptural stories of grand symbols of God’s presence
and faithfulness exist, and for them I give thanks. More often, though,
I am comforted by the stories that reveal God in places other than the
mountaintop. I am more at home with those disciples who could not stay
awake to witness critical spiritual dramas. I am brother to Mary and
others who, so burdened with grief, could not recognize a risen Christ
until their names were called. I am kin to those, like Jacob, who
wrestled through the night and held on to what glimmer of the holy they
had in order to extract a blessing. These are the torn who sustain
is a bold statement to say that God and hope lie within the ordinary
stuff of our lives. We respond easily to the awesome and have been
conditioned to regard such times as the truly spiritual.
find myself moved by the holiness in my neighbour cutting grass,
strudel dropped off at the door by a caring friend and the act of
scrubbing a toilet on the day my dad was laid to rest.
Gospel in the midst — the Christian way.
Hymn: 266 (Voices United) Amazing Grace
Scripture: Luke 19:1-10
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