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Let go. Let go and let God. I have been. I’m trying to. Let go of being let go, let God and, while you’re at it, bless the tie that binds. At times, the stretch feels like too much. I may have watched beginner’s yoga on PBS but this feels like a pose from the advanced class – something like the full one-legged king pigeon position.
And then, grace comes. Grace comes and gives me exercises that help me limber up. They also give God a chance to strut some mysterious ways. My exercises have shown up in shards of half-remembered scripture, word-a-day e-mails, a dream in the night and a song in the morning.
Actually, grace showed up at the get-go. On Tuesday morning, February 3rd, Ed called me into the rector’s office. When I walked in, Ed and Anne were sitting at the table. I sat down and Ed told me my position had been terminated. He expressed his regret and asked how I was feeling. Before long, we started talking about things that needed to be done. As we talked, I realized that the expectation was that I would want to leave without a formal farewell. My immediate feeling, however, was that that was not what I should do. I said, “Ed, you know I really believe in church and that church is about being face-to-face with each other.” And then I asked to worship once again in the community I love and have a time of public farewell.
In the middle of that conversation, a fragment of scripture came to my mind that I hadn’t thought of in years. It’s from the 26th chapter of Acts, a passage I recited in revival meetings as a child, Paul’s defense before King Agrippa. All I remembered Paul saying was, “for this thing was not done in a corner.” Instantly, though, I knew that’s what I didn’t want to happen. I didn’t want there to be an exchange of regrets in a corner followed by my slipping away. Instead, I felt I needed a time to be together with the community before I left. That phrase, “this thing was not done in a corner,” somehow, mysteriously, worked to give me courage.
That night, I had a dream. Ordinarily, I don’t remember them. This one I did. I was at a Jewish event being held in a strip mall. The event seemed to be more political than religious. A crowd was gathering in the parking lot waiting to go inside. The room was still being set up. In the crowd were people who were identified in my dream as “Islamic radicals.” I walked through the crowd and into the meeting hall. As I did, one of the “radicals,” a middle-aged man in a suit, walked in also. Once he was inside, he placed a cloth-wrapped package in a chair, turned and left. My first thought was, “Gee, I need to tell someone about that package.” Here, the details of the dream scene fade. But I awoke with the awareness that the package turned out to be harmless and I was left with the learning that I shouldn’t presume to know what’s inside unopened bundles. Perhaps, that wasn’t a bomb that had been put in my chair after all.
Next, came Wordsmith. Wordsmith e-mails me a word a day – a word along with its definition, etymology and a usage example. A parishioner signed me up for the service. Most of the time, I don’t get around to reading their messages. But for some reason, in the last few days, I did. On my first fully-unemployed day, Wordsmith’s word was “sanguine.” “Sanguine” is a word I’ve long loved at a distance because of its surprising double meaning: bloody and hopeful. Now, I get to love sanguine up close, this word that holds together how I’ve felt and how I pray to feel, a word whose sense sensed in the blood the sign of new life and moved on over into hope.
Two days later, Wordsmith sent another word, one that, for me, will always be an All Saints’ word. My family’s church careers began in tents and under brush arbors and, on the revival circuit, there are some church words we just never learned to use. After all, who ever heard of a canvas columbarium? Still, there it was, my e-mail word for the day: columbarium. What to make of it? Sanguine made such sudden sense. But columbarium? A question, finally, was the best I could do. Could it be that to pass from sanguine’s bloody to sanguine’s hopeful, you had to go through the columbarium?
Wordsmith threw up a third word for me to consider: “canard.” A canard is “a misleading story.” But as I started to go down that path I remembered that the devil can quote scripture and I figured that the devil who can do that just might tempt me using Wordsmith too and I left “canard” as a road not taken.
Then there was a visit from the mailbox messenger. The messenger’s a parishioner who stops by the church office from to time to time to leave a greeting in my mailbox. The greeting’s almost always written on the cover of a recent edition of some free periodical – often the Whole Life Times. In the past, I’ve always been addressed in these messages as “King Rusty Harding.” Other members of the staff share my crown. My most recent message, however, bore no greeting and it came as a shock to learn that my crown was contingent upon being small group director. Still, there was a handwritten message. Across the top of the Whole Life Times was written, “The Great Tribulation” and beneath that, in capital letters, “GOD BLESS.” I turned and walked upstairs, holding a Whole Life in my hands, saying, “Yes” to GOD BLESS and “Not yet” to The Great Tribulation.
One morning, a few days later, a hymn helped. It was being sung in me when I woke up. It made for a much more martial morning than I’m used to. The hymn, Sound the Battle Cry, came from somewhere deep inside me. I wonder if it isn’t the next-door neighbor of “this thing was not done in a corner.” Again, like the phrase from Paul’s defense, fragments were all I recalled. Just a tune with snatches of lyrics floating on top. Something about, “rally round the banner” and “shout aloud Hosanna,” but mainly, only, “Ready, steady, pass the word along.” Yet in those words, “ready, steady, pass the word along,” I heard what I pray God will help me be and do.
During these last few days, I took a look at the 26th chapter of Acts because I couldn’t remember the context for, “This thing was not done in a corner” and I wanted to know just what “this thing” was. Here’s what I found: Paul tells his story. He tells about his deliverance and the faith he proclaims. Then when he’s summing up, he says he preaches the resurrection. He’s interrupted and his sanity is questioned. Paul answers that he isn’t mad. What he preaches happened out in the world. People know about it. “This thing was not done in a corner.” This “thing.” This resurrection. Right in the Rector’s Office, grace gave me a handful of words, words that gave me courage and direction. Words that, even below the level of my awareness, were assuring me of the reality of new life.
It’s word of this word-giving, life-giving grace, I pray to be ready and steady enough to pass along, word of the grace that lifted me and got me sober eighteen years ago, the grace that gives me courage to work through my fears of unknown bundles and reach out when I’m being let go; the grace that helps me to steer clear of canards and cautions me not to cast myself in the Great Tribulation; the grace that, columbarium or no, leads from bloody on toward hope.
I’m struggling with letting go. I will be for a long time. But I’m getting better at blessing the tie that binds. That’s probably because the blessing doesn’t depend on me. In God and with God, we do it together. “We share our mutual woes, our mutual burdens bear …” for “Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one: our comfort and our cares.”
Such friends. Over these last few weeks, how you’ve supported and sustained me. You’ve blessed the tie that binds and that tie – binding me to you and all of us together – is proving to be just what the prayer book says it is: “indissoluble.” Yes to GOD BLESS in big letters.