November 29, 2017
Last week I was called to the funeral home to do a prayer service for a four-month old baby who had died.
What I’ll never forget is the wailing.
The mother was holding the baby in her arms–she wouldn’t let go of her–and she was rocking back and forth and calling her name, and wailing, and all the baby’s aunts were wailing, too. The sound of it came in waves, rising and falling.
Today is the twentieth anniversary of my ordination as a deacon, and as I think back on those years I think of all the graces and gifts of my ordination, and I think back, too, in light of the gospel today, on my struggles, on my “persecutions,” although nothing I’ve experienced really rises to that level. I haven’t been hated. I haven’t been beaten. Mostly I’ve just been ignored, at OSU anyway. I’ve been able to connect with a number of colleagues and students over those years, spiritually, and everyone has been polite to me, and respectful, but by and large I’ve just been dismissed. Discounted. For the majority of my students and the majority of my colleagues, faith is a language they just don’t speak, a music they just don’t hear.
I feel very much supported and appreciated at St. Mary’s, and I’m very grateful for that, but a lot of the situations that a deacon is called into are awkward and undefined, and no one in those situations knows what a deacon is, and no one cares, and that’s been good for me, really, one of the real graces of my ordination, though it’s taken me years to see this.
I was so grateful to the Church the other day, for the scriptures and for the liturgy. I didn’t need to come up with the words myself, and I couldn’t have. But I knew where to find them, and I knew how to say them, and they were beautiful words, and they rose and fell, too, they had a rhythm and a force, and I think after a while they started to calm and center the people at the funeral home, as I said them into the dark air of that room.
But mostly what I felt was helpless, was powerless, and I was helpless, I was powerless, and that was the grace of it.
It was a moment like all the moments of awkwardness and hiddenness, but intensified, transformed.
No one was paying any attention to me, nor should they have been. No one cared who I was, nor should they have. It was the words that mattered, and what was deeper than words, and I felt that. I knew that. For a moment, just a moment, the intensity of the family’s shock and the intensity of the family’s grief burned through my ego and burned through my pride and I wasn’t thinking about myself at all. I was caught up with the mother and the father and the grandparents and the uncles and the aunts and everyone else in that room in that terrible, beautiful darkness. That terrible, beautiful mystery.
“Let the children come to me,” Jesus said. “Do not keep them from me. The kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
This wasn’t a moment of challenge. It was a moment of grace. It was a moment of the presence of God and of the love of God, overflowing, in some way I can’t explain.
O Lord, You call us all to be deacons, to be servants: give us the grace and the strength to serve.
You call us into your darkness, and into Your light.
You call us deeper than words and deeper than grief.
Beneath all the other voices you are quietly calling us home.
O Lord, You became a little child for our sake: bless us and keep us.
We are all children, we are all precious in your sight: take us into your arms.