He sat there last night in what was once his church, a former church, the Word of God spread before him as if he were himself the preacher holding forth. The whole time he listened, his eyes went up and down, up and down, as if checking to see if the man who was preaching--a successor--was staying in the word. He wore the smile that has been fixed there since the time I first met him.
He played baseball, years ago, in college, a tank of a man who could have been a linebacker had he gone to a high school with a football program. At 60, he's still built like a steel nail, broad-shouldered, square, nary a paunch. He may have to work at staying slim--I don't know; but once upon a time he was among the heaviest marathoners I ever knew.
Even if he doesn't work out, the man would burn calories in a furnace of intense passions for the Lord. His eyes up on the preacher, then down on the Word, up then down, up then down--to me he seemed to radiate the same virtuous intensity he did 40 years ago.
We were not cut from the cloth. At 18, when I first met him, he was intense, a preacher long before his first day of seminary. The luminosity of his witness made some want to leave the locker room, me among them. Almost ridiculously upbeat, he drew jibes--even a little mockery--the way flowers draw every kind of creature; but half the time he didn't really catch the buzz because his passionate, faithful life ran on a higher frequency than most of ours.
It was as if, as a kid, he'd been singing about not hiding his light under a bushel. At that moment, he simply took the pledge to heart, told himself he'd never countenance a bushel again and shine always like magnesium aflame.
I saw him last night, for the first time in awhile. We're both entertaining thoughts of retirement now--or at least I am. And I wondered how he'd tell his life story as he looked back over a shining life--whether or not he'd held that glow or had lost a lumin or two, those broad-shouldered passions of a bit more shadowed.
Up and down, up and down--he kept checking the Word as if he didn't know it, as if he'd just stumbled on the passage his successor had chosen, gospel of Mark. Up and down, up and down, eyes bright, that thin smile over his face, as if for the very first time he was listening in to nothing less than the full gospel of Jesus Christ.
During the benediction, as if by instinct his hands came up just slightly, lest the blessing escape his open hands.
This morning I read that Sylvia Plath's son committed suicide, as did his mother before him; and I started thinking about the passionate preacher in the pew, lit up, even as he sat there listening, with nothing less than the startling wattage he's always emitted. Back then he was something of a holy fool. I doubt he's changed.
So this morning I can't help but wonder how much of what we are comes to us by choice and how much is simply there in the package, on arrival, as if, at conception, we're nothing more or less, say, than a microscopic seed potato.
I'd like to know, from him, whether all that luminosity ever dimmed or browned, whether he'd ever registered a doubt. I'd like to know, from a lifetime in the pulpit, just exactly what he'd learned.
I'm guessing I'd get a smile. And a sermon. Maybe just a meditation.