A Year of Morning Thanks
The Gift of Love
Fundamentally, we are not angels but creatures of time and space. We inhabit our inch of territory, and always the clock is ticking. Last year I made a t-shirt with a famous Thoreau quote over the front--"Time is but a stream I go a fishing in." But the truth is, we lump Thoreau in with writers we call "the Romantics" because they were--romantic and not always real. All of us live in parenthesis, and the older I become, the more I can feel those curvy bookend restrainers.
Last night, our time and place was a sabbat at a synagogue in a city not far from here, a religious celebration hosted by the Jewish community, an unlikely place, perhaps, for a contingent of sworn Calvinists. We were there because Tolerance Week had ended--a few days of memory, of sadness and celebration and reflection about the Holocaust; we were there for a summation, a few last words on the week.
A couple months previous, the leaders had asked me if I could get a pastor from the community to say a few words to this community of Jews. I knew our pastor had lived among close Jewish friends in a previous church in Toronto, and I knew--even though I didn't know why--he deeply admired the religious tradition of his Jewish friends and the Jewish faith itself. "It's what we come from," he might have said, if I'd asked. So I called him, asking him if he'd like to participate. I wasn't surprised when he assented.
I'm not sure at all of what the Jewish community thought they'd get from a small-town pastor from a rural community up the road, but I'm guessing that they held--for whatever reasons--very low expectations; they may have even feared being evangelized. Of course, the recent history of Jewish/Christian relations holds images we all know from Nazi treachery.
We may well be first and foremost creatures of time and place, but there are moments, thankfully, when what we do and what we say breaks through those limitations and reaches something greater and higher; and I witnessed one of those moments last night. Quietly and graciously, our pastor walked our Jewish hosts through the history of his own life with Jewish people, starting with memories of his parents reading through the whole Bible, and ending the meditation--for certainly that's what it was--with honest and loving reference to his daughter-in-law, who is not Christian, but Jewish.
Joy shown on the faces of his audience as he spoke. Eloquence is nearly too cheap a word because it implies a rhetoric, a strategy. The Jewish people may well have been surprised that he knew as much as he did about the very heart of their tradition, but that wasn't the reason they were moved. They were moved because his simple words offered them something few of us ever get enough of--verifiable, heartfelt dignity.
The best way I can describe what happened in the synagogue last night is to say it was transcendent. That speech in time and place ranked with the finest speeches I've ever heard, not because of its splendid rhetoric but because of what it offered, simply and openly: love. What he gave them was the greatest of these, nothing less than love itself.
Last night, Tolerance Week ended in joy and life and love, exactly--precisely--the very best way it could have.
Maybe I'm wrong about time and place. Maybe sometime--with an ample measure of God's own grace--we can be almost angelic.
My wife said, when we returned, that she couldn't think of a place in the world she could have been where the blessings were as bounteous. This morning, my thanks is simply to have been part of an eternal moment.