Saturday, October 24, 2009
Broken, yet behold! we are being made whole!
Blue lights flashing everywhere and yellow crime scene tape around an entire neighborhood block. Traffic backed up. School buses filled with somber-faced teachers, parents and children. Small clusters of worried neighbors here and there.
My cell phone rang just as my cab driver, an ebony-skinned man from Sierra Leon, was asking me, "Is this Chatham?"
Fr. Ed Hines, pastor since 2003 at St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church,had been found murdered in the rectory, one block up and one block over from the rectory where I live and move and have my being.
Ed was a colleague, but more importantly, he was my friend. A genuinely nice guy. One of the last of a dying breed of gentle souls.
He fully respected the status of my ordination. He was a mentor. A role model. A confidant. A colleague. A friend.
If the entirety of our lives can be summed up in one story, here's my story about Ed:
It was not long after the death of my daughter. I thought I was doing okay. The grieving process was progressing on course. "Thank you, I'm fine," I heard myself saying, over and over again, to kind, caring people who asked how I was doing.
And then, one morning, I woke up and found that I couldn't move my feet from the bed and put them on the floor. Neither could I take a full breath.
My first coherent thought was, "I've got to get to Mass."
The only place I could think of that was close by was St. Pat's. There was an 8 AM daily mass there.
I got up and got dressed. I knew I wouldn't be able to receive the sacrament in a RC Church but I was okay with that.
All I really needed at the time was to be in a small community of people who believed in the Resurrection. Who not only believed in but cherished the idea of Life Eternal. Who willingly and gladly entered into the paradox of understanding the Mysterium Grandum of God's sacramental grace.
I pulled on my favorite old jeans and a hooded sweat shirt, put on my hat, coat and mittens and walked the block up to St. Pat's and took a seat in the back. There were 8 or 10 people already in the church.
When it came time for communion, I sat in my pew, praying quietly to God, my head bowed, my knees bent, my hands and heart open.
Suddenly, I felt something being pressed into my hand. I opened my eyes and saw Fr. Ed standing before me, pressing the broken wafer into my hand, as I heard him say, "The Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven."
I took the broken wafer into my hand, gobbling it like a hungry beggar who hadn't eaten in weeks. I hadn't known how hungry I had been.
Right there in front of God and the people of God, I was fed and nourished.
I had received a foretaste of the heavenly banquet which my daughter now enjoyed. I was one with her and she with me and I experienced a wholeness and a healing that surpassed sublime.
What really broke my heart open was the risk this man took for Incarnate Love. For the Gospel. Right there, in the Roman Catholic Church, in front of God and the assembled faithful, he broke a rule, and fed a hungry, broken woman a broken piece of bread which filled me with wholeness and holiness of Life.
Ed Hines found a place deep in my heart in that moment that became all his own. It is that place, tonight, which cries out in the pain of his loss.
I've been on the phone most of the night. Coordinating with area clergy about a collaborative pastoral response. Conferring about what we might do to allay anxieties and assuage fears.
All this while I rehearsed a bridal party of 20 for a lavish, posh Interfaith Wedding tomorrow evening in one of the most 'swankified' country clubs in the area.
It's been a surreal evening.
In the midst of everything else, I've gotten three independent text messages from three different parishioners that are, word for word, the same:
"Are we safe?"
Here's the truth of it which I haven't had the courage to write back: We never were. Never have been. None of us. Any where. If we had been truly safe, Fr. Ed would be alive tonight.
Safety and security are illusions. Always have been. Always will be. We walk a fine line between our illusions and the common every day realities of truth as we perceive them.
Or, alter our perceptions to convince us of our realities as we want them to be.
Who said: "Perception is reality and reality is truth"?
(No, really. Who said that? Aristotle or Socrates? I can't remember.)
Here's the truth of my reality tonight: I am not afraid.
I suppose I'm not afraid tonight because my perception of reality is very different than most people who live here.
I see beyond here. I believe in the Resurrection. I truly believe in Eternal Life. Those aren't just words in the Creeds. I could recite any of the Creeds without crossing my fingers and still pass a lie-detector test.
What I know tonight that I didn't think I'd ever know is the pain of the loss of my friend, Ed. Nothing is more real to me tonight.
Of your kindness and mercy, please pray for the repose of the soul of Ed Hinds. Pray for all who knew his smile, experienced his compassion, called him friend, and saw the light of Christ in his heart.
Pray for the frightened souls of the people of The Chathams.
And pray for me, a sinner of Christ's own redeeming who was once hungry and broken and was once fed and made whole.
And, is deeply, deeply grateful.