Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Finding Jesus

The Way to Emmaus - Piety Choi
It's Mother's Day. Our youngest daughter and her husband have come to visit me in Cambridge. They arrived yesterday afternoon. We're having a delightful time.

We'll be heading out to church and then get a bite to eat at Darwin's - a funky little place here in Cambridge where the service is lousy (lots of Cambridge attitude) but the food and the coffee are wonderful.

The Gospel for today is the story of the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) which has prompted me to do some thinking, this Mother's Day, about finding Jesus.

There's also been a lot of talk on HOB/D (the House of Bishops/Deputies) list serve about Eucharist vs. Morning Prayer as the principle Sunday service (Imagine!)

The whole conversation brought back a flood of memories. I shared a bit of the following story on HOB/D yesterday (this is the fuller version, for those of you who read it first there).

I think it's a good Emmaus story - with an important point about Mother's Day.

So, here's the story, then:

I was a newly ordained priest at my first call as Chaplain at University of Lowell, in Lowell, MA. One of the first mission projects I created was to establish a weekly Eucharist at the Solomon Carter Mental Health Center.

I had carefully trained a handful of students in how to lead worship and, together, we had decided that two of them would come with me to the Center, on a rotating basis.

The third floor of the Center was a 'locked unit' - pretty much a human waste basket for all those people who had been released from psychiatric facilities - where they would stay for a few weeks, be released to the streets for a few weeks and then, readmitted again after a brief stop over at the Lowell Police Station and the City Jail for 'disturbing the peace'.

I had secured permission to provide a service of Holy Communion, as it would be advertised, making sure the staff knew that I would be bringing in bread (or, hosts, if need be) and wine.

"Nope," they said, "can't bring in anything - not hosts, not bread - from the outside. Especially not wine."

"Okay," I said, "Can you provide me with a few slices of bread and some grape juice?"

"No bread," they said, "We had a 'suicide-by-stuffing-bread' last year. No bread on the ward. And, no peanut butter. That's even worse."

"Okay," I said, "No problem with the peanut butter. How about some saltine crackers and some grape juice?"

"Deal," they said, "We keep them in packages of two - no 'stuffing' - and you can just open up as many packages as you need."

Imagine my surprise when I appeared for that first service and found, waiting for me, some graham crackers and grapefruit juice.

"It's all we had," they said without apology, adding, "It's the end of the month. Supplies are low."

In I went, to the locked "Recreation Room". I heard the door lock behind me and realized that I was alone in the room with two terrified students and about 25 people who were in all sort and manner of 'altered states' of consciousness.

People were walking around nervously, pacing, smoking, muttering to themselves, occasionally shouting out obscenities.

I set the table, yelled out what was about to happen, and asked people to take their seats.

No one did.

I started anyway - said a few, abbreviated opening words, one of the students read the first lesson, the other led the psalm. I went right to the gospel and then said a few words about it.

To my amazement, some of the folks actually sat down and were listening to me. The room was not exactly quiet, but the din had certainly decreased a few decibels and was now a dull buzz.

As I started to say the Eucharistic Prayer, one woman in the front - Helen, I'll never forget her - spoke up.

Helen's eyes looked like the last 20 or 30 years of her life had witnessed some pretty rough roads. Makeup clung to the deep wrinkles and lines in her face, her eyelids were a bright blue with a crooked line of mascara outlining them, and her lips were a misshapen bright cherry red.

She looked like a tragic clown in a very painfully human circus in this "Recreational Room". 

"Hey, are you allowed to do that? I mean, being a woman and all," she asked in a gravely voice.

"Yes," I assured her, "I am an ordained Episcopal Priest."

"Yeah," she said, taking a drag from her cigarette,"Well, I can't take communion. Divorced, you know."

"Sure you can," I said, "Everyone is welcome at the Lord's Table."

She looked at the oblong utility table where I had set out the starched, white corporal, and had the shiny silver paten and chalice, raised an eyebrow of suspicion, shrugged her shoulders, and lit another cigarette from the one she had almost finished.

I got through the Eucharistic Prayer and marveled as most of the people in the room seemed to be paying close attention to what I was doing.

As I prepared to distribute communion, Helen called out, "Hey, shouldn't we be singing something?"

"Sure," I said, "Why don't you lead us in singing one of your favorite hymns?"

So, she did.

She leaned back her head, closed her eyes and started singing in the most reverent tones I've ever heard, "She'll be comin' 'round the mountain when she comes. She'll be comin' 'round the mountain when she comes. . . ."

By the third verse, about a dozen or so people joined her. "She'll be be driving six white horses, she'll be drivin' six white horses (big finish) WHEN. SHE. COOOMMMES!!"

In that moment I knew that Jesus was already there, in that locked Recreational Room, on the third floor of the locked ward of the Solomon Carter Mental Health Center, in Lowell, MA.

And, not just in the graham crackers and grapefruit juice.

We had only just brought the church to Jesus.

I wasn't taught that in seminary, but that's what I've come to know is closer to the truth of that wonderful and sacred mystery of Jesus and His body we call 'church'.

So, g'won. Go to church. Jesus may be waiting for you there this morning.

Or, you might find Jesus in the face of your mother - or your sister - or your daughter - or your friend.

Helen was someone's mother - and sister - and daughter and friend.

I saw the face of Jesus in her face.

I hope she saw the face of Jesus in mine.

The best way to honor Jesus today is to honor Him in the face of the one who is or has been your mother - and, honor your mother by seeing the face of Jesus in her face.

Happy Mother's Day!


Lindy said...

One of your best.

textjunkie said...

I was loving it until "She'll be coming round the mountain"--and then I had to go blow my nose and wipe my eyes. What a two-way blessing you had!!

Happy Mother's day to you too!

Muthah+ said...

yep. It's one of the reasons I stayed home from 'church' and wrote about my Mom today. Somehow I found the face of Jesus there today.

Enjoy your dinner with your kids. Hope Ms Conroy is with you. And know that there are many who find the face of Jesus in you.

'She'll be comin around the mountain' for sure.

Bateau Master said...

Elizabeth - had an encounter at church this morning where I did not find Jesus - just a nasty ingrate that needed to shut the cake hole.

Thank you for the slap across the face and the tears in my eyes ....I recognized Him in your story and the singing of a "hymn".

IT said...

There you go again. Waiting for that book...

RevMama said...

Well, dang it, Elizabeth, you made me get all misty-eyed. Again. A beautiful post and straight to the heart of things as usual. Sometimes Jesus is indeed known in the breaking of the graham cracker and see in the faces of those we think least likely. Jesus is like that. Sneaky. Thanks be to God!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Lindy

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

textjunkie - It happened more than 25 years ago, but the blessing is still very present. Thank you.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Muthah- Ms. Conroy is not here, but all the kids called her and me. It's been a great day.

Matthew said...

Beautiful story. As an aside I am a member of a parish that still does (and always has) morning prayer twice a month on Sunday morning. Since I'm not on HOB/D, I wonder if you could provide a summary or snapshot of that debate. Truly, I thought that debate died out after 1979, except for the few places where it never did (hangers on) and rural places that share a priest. Oh, and Baltimore/Maryland. Thanks, Matthew Wright.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Bateau Master - Church can be like that, sometimes. Which is why I love hanging around places that are 'human waste baskets'. Jesus is most present to me there.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, IT. I'm moving closer and closer. Can you tell?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

RevMama - I haven't told this story in years and years. Almost forgot it. I'm glad that the conversation came up on HOB/D.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew - The issue arose out of the fact that the way GC is now scheduled there are two Sundays when clergy who are deputies are away from their churches. So, what to do? a 'deacon's mass', Eucharistic ministers doing the Service of the Word and distributing presanctified hosts? Oh, wait! Let's bring back Morning Prayer.

The conversation then went into clericalism vs. priesthood of all believers. It got weird when it wasn't divisive.

I thought the conversation needed a little levity. So, I told the story.

Mich Magness said...

Thank you very much, Elizabeth, for this meditation on finding the face of God. I'm also familiar with these people our society disregards because of their illness. I'm reminded that we are the ones who fail to find value in all people, not God.