Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Emmaus Revisited - The Journey Home

Easter Wednesday

Today's Word:
Acts 3:1-10 (Peter: "I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus, rise and walk")
Psalm 105:1-9 (Rejoice, O hearts that seek the Lord)
Luke 24:13-35 (Emmaus Revisited: "Were not our hearts burning within us as he spoke to us on the way?")

Is it possible that it took being brought to the lowest point in my life to truly witness the presence of the unseen God?

I had lost nearly everything. I was out of work for nearly seven months; I felt too disgraced to set foot in the parish where I had served. I was contacted about a potential job opportunity 120 miles from anybody I knew; I went to be interviewed but it never panned out. (Well, not until two weeks after I accepted the position I currently hold.) Many people honestly thought I had indeed moved away. Eventually that also happened, and it had to happen quickly. Not because of anything my wife or I had done or failed to do; my original landlords had passed away and their son could not afford to keep and maintain the place, so he ultimately sold it. Sandwiched in all of this was the ultimate in personal financial disaster.

When you feel sad
Or under a curse
Your life is bad
Your prospects are worse
Your wife is crying, sighing
And your olive tree is dying
Temples are graying
Teeth are decaying
And creditors weighing your purse...
(how did he know?)

Your mood and your robe
Are both a deep blue
You'd bet that Job
Had nothing on you
Don't forget that when you get to Heaven
You'll be blessed
Yes, it's all for the best

--All For The Best
(excerpt) from Godspell (1970)
Stephen Schwartz

I tried getting reestablished in the parish in my neighborhood, the one I attended as a child; the one where I met Charles; the one where it all began. That wasn't working, either. What seemed to be working was Cornerstone.

Cornerstone was birthed in 1999, as two other established communities merged. For the first five years their services were held in a school gymnasium. I would take my son there, as I had no reason not to. The atmosphere was less formal, and the music was more contemporary. (Unless you're watching a hockey or baseball game, an organ seems out of place in a school gymnasium.) My son liked the upbeat music, and liked having me at his side, something I had been unable to do. Even on the occasions when I would sing (at my friend Mike's request), my son came with me and I was able to sit with him most of the time - and had him in eyesight when I was busy.

When the new building at Cornerstone was ready, a new innovation was added - multimedia. This did away with program sheets and hymnals; everything was projected on screens. This also gave Pastor Paul the ability to throw in video clips that assisted in whatever the week's theme was. I explained to my son that this was all done with computers. He had become quite familiar with what technology could do. I'm guessing that this really appealed to him; in any case he would look forward to each trip.

Meanwhile, the director at Ascension (the Catholic parish at which I now serve) contacted me early in 2001. I am surprised she found me. (In retrospect, we hadn't moved yet and our phone number hadn't changed, so I shouldn't have been so shocked.) She was looking for male singers for the choir there - and there was a stipend involved, more than I'd ever known about.Advantage:  would be compensated. Disadvantage: church was 25 miles away, and I wasn't sure I was ready to go through all this again.

had to think about this. I had to pray over it. And I wanted to consult with the two people that knew me best.

First, I ran this by my wife. She had never wanted me to quit everything, but to understand what was most important. She told me that I had been completely miserable over the nearly two years that I was not active. Now that my employment was stable, she said that I should go back. A part of me was always going to be attached to God through the Church and she did not want to hold that back. The compensation more than covered the expense of driving there and back. I told her the minute it should get out of hand I would quit.

Next, I talked to my friend Mike. As a paid musician himself, he didn't give it a second thought. Take it, he said. I realize now that he lived by those words.

With that, I accepted the offer. It wasn't all that simple, though. There was my son's interest at Cornerstone. It was the best chance he had at learning about community. It was also a place where people talked to him. And I was interested as well. Between Mike and Pastor Paul, I realized that here was something I didn't want to set aside thoughtlessly. So whenever my schedule allowed it, I'd take my son and head out to Cornerstone. People there were always happy to see us. They still are.
I have become a modern day "wandering minstrel."

At the present time, though, I can't think of a better place to be. I have one foot resting in the roots of holy tradition. In order to know where you are, you need to know where you've been. The other foot is resting in fresh, new ground; and the freshness of that message speaks to me as loudly as does tradition. There are some who think that could be wrong, especially among those clinging more to tradition. I politely disagree. To me, one complements the other. Our theological differences (more a stumbling block politically at the point they were made nearly 500 years ago) should not keep us apart.

I owe it to my son to give him the backdrop, the spiritual safety net he needs. In my mind, there is nothing wrong with being part of two places. If one is sincerely following God, he or she will go wherever God leads - even if it runs against the current. After all, God worked through Moses to part the Red Sea!

There will always be those who disagree. They don't know me well enough to understand that this way works; they only shake their heads and through body language state that this is something they're just not interested in doing, even once.

I've had a few lengthier conversations with Pastor Paul when opportunities arose. In one of his conversations I remember him telling me that I "got it." I make no such claim; we only get it fully when we reach the journey's end. I am not there yet; and I am not foolish enough to think that I'm even close. What I claim is that every good thing comes from God. We shouldn't balk at taking chances based on human interpretation of God's presence and/or Jesus' teaching in our lives. We must always strive to look past the naysayers and the purveyors of doom and gloom. We must take life seriously, one day at a time.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life, make the best of it. Hope is ours! We will make it to the Promised Land, to the place we're supposed to be!

Can you hear, there's a new song
Breaking out from the children of freedom
Every race and every nation
Sing it out sing a new Hallelujah

Let us sing love to the nations
Bringing hope of the grace that has freed us
Make Him known and make Him famous
Sing it out sing a new Hallelujah

Let the church arise!
Let love reach to the other side
Alive come alive
Let the song arise

Oh yes I sing a new song
Reaching out with a new Hallelujah
Every son and every daughter
Everyone sing a new Hallelujah

Let the song arise
Let love reach to the other side
Alive come alive
Let the song arise

Whoa whoa yeah
Let the song arise
Let the song arise yeah (2x)

Let the world sing a new Hallelujah
From Africa to Australia
From Brazil to China
From New York to Chicago!

Let the Church arise!
Let love reach to the other side!
Alive - Come alive -
Let the song arise!!

Everyone sing a new Hallelujah!! (2x)
--A New Hallelujah (2008)
Michael W. Smith

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