|Photo by Akuppa JohnWigham
Have I mentioned lately that I love my monthly meeting? I do.
Often, when I speak of my sense of God/the gods (whether using Pagan or Quaker vocabulary) I speak of my connections to people, to community. I do find that my lived experience of God most often comes through to me in encounters with community. Frail as we are, foolish as we are, it is in the refractions of human beings that I most often glimpse God.
This is about one of those glimpses.
Two weeks ago, in meeting for worship, Alan T. stood with a message. When Alan rose, he spoke, as he generally does, in calm, unpretentious tones, just giving us the truth of his experience, turning it over in his mind.
Like many of us, Alan struggles with a family that is not always accepting of his spiritual journey. Like many of us, Alan still tries to speak about this part of his life with his family, his parents, whose version of Christianity is concrete, specific, and unyielding.
One part of Alan’s message, as he spoke it, resonated for me with all the unexpected power of a perfectly tuned bell.
He said that though he knew better than to do it, he’d found himself confiding in his dad one day, telling him, “I talk to Jesus every day.”
Far from being reassured, his dad answered him, “You’re talking to the wrong Jesus.”
There was more to Alan’s message, but for me, that sentence was so strong and so painful that it stopped at that.
“Talking to the wrong Jesus.” Here I am, a non-Christian, sometimes feeling like a poor, orphaned relative among the Christians of the world, apologizing, explaining, translating… And there’s Alan, one of the most sincere and serious Christians I know, equally dismissed, equally marginalized.
For talking to the “wrong Jesus.”
I could not decide, in that moment, whether those words were more funny or sad. But they’re both, really, aren’t they?
The wrong Jesus. The wrong Zeus, the wrong Demeter, the wrong Allah, the wrong theology, ontology, hermeneutics, philosophics, harmonics, recipe for sweet golden Hannukah latkes… Oh, dear sweet Ground of All Being, how we humans dearly love to draw our little lines around your limitlessness and fence you off and take You (and one another) hostage. There it was: the tragedy and the comedy of being human and trying to love God and one another, all sewed into one small sentence.
May we be forgiven.
A little while later, I felt a message beginning to form within me.
It rose first, as messages almost always do for me, with sensory images: the sight and sound and textures of the ocean, the sand of a beach, and a lump of sea glass–a particular lump, I think, found when I was perhaps thirteen years old, one summer in Maine.
It took a while for the message to take shape, and even then, I was inclined to let it sit. (Often that is where posts for this blog begin.) But then I began to feel that restlessness, the almost physical urge to rise. So I did, and I put my hands out to steady myself against the oak back of the bench in front of me, and the words that came out went something like this:
“I have been sitting here, with my mind full of those words: ‘You’ve been talking to the wrong Jesus.’
“And I’ve been remembering being a child, remembering the experience of being down at the ocean, looking for shells.
“Do you remember the beach? Did you ever go to the beach, and walk along the wet sand, looking for shells? The water so cold it aches, because that’s the way it is with the Atlantic ocean… so cold that even the sand between your toes is cold.
“I remember the smell of the ocean, the taste of the salt.
“And I remember not finding shells. But one day, I found this amazing stuff–sea glass. I don’t know–is there still sea glass out there to find? I hope there is. Hard like a stone, but full of light. Smooth and rounded in your hand, and cool, and when you hold it up to the sun, full of amazing colors: green, deep blue, pale, pale aqua… amber brown.
“Did you ever find sea glass? Do you remember the way it felt, so smooth in your hand?
“And if you were lucky, you took that piece of sea glass, and you ran with it down the beach to where someone big was waiting for you. And you sat down next to them, digging your feet into the sand, and you took turns holding it up to the light, and feeling its coolness in your hands, wondering at it: a small miracle. Sea glass.
“But maybe you were not so lucky. Maybe, the big person you ran to looked down at it, and dismissed it. ‘Yeah,’ they said, dismissively. ‘It’s sea glass. So what?’
“Yes,” I said. “It’s sea glass. Now look. Look!“
And I sat down.
I don’t know for sure how Margaret seems to other people. But to me, Margaret is like a spring of cool, dark water on a hot, thirsty day. She doesn’t give much vocal ministry, but when she does, I drink it in as deep as I can.
Margaret refreshes my spirit.
And Margaret spoke, and she spoke this prayer:
in the silence, i know you:
i know your coughs, the sound of your flip-flops,
the nods of your head as you doze
you are in the pocket of my backpack when i go hiking
you are in the moment of grace before the meals i eat in solitude
you are my teachers, you are my trespassers
you are my rabbis, you are my deceivers
you are my jesus, my buddha, my whirling dervishes
source of truth, source of love –
help me to fall in love with those with whom i’m in tension
help me to speak honestly and with humility
help me to embrace those who are struggling
help me to fall at the feet of those who are strong enough to hold me.
After meeting, Margaret shared with me one last line, which had not been spoken in meeting:
“you are my sea glass.”