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Living in faith

It's possible to find God even in a frayed moment

By Keith Howard

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.)

Still, 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.

I 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.”

I 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 racing up.

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.

Then 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.    

Remembering 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 true.

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
my hope.

It 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.

Yet I 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

Author's photo
Rev. Keith Howard is a Victoria writer and executive director of the United Church Emerging Spirit campaign.
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