My 6th grade teacher, Miss O’Meara, introduced me to the aphorism “so near and yet so far away”. I was a curious 12 year old and struggled to understand the meaning of this contradictory wisdom. Whatever was she talking about, I wondered. Miss O’Meara was fearful and authoritarian. Asking was not an option. I would have to figure it out for myself.
It took me decades. So near- a friend and soulmate who moved to Ohio-so far away from hugs and conversation. So near- my teenaged son showered with maternal love and spiritual embrace- so far away in rebellion and independence. And now, volunteering at Worcester Fellowship, I am having a current experience of this contradictory wisdom.
In the early weeks of Thursday Café, I went out to the sidewalks of Pleasant Street adjacent to All Saints. My purpose was to do street hospitality. I put out a simple invitation to passersby: “The church is open. Would you like to come in for a hot lunch?” Folks, most generally responded in one of two ways- either accepting the invite or saying “thank you”-what a good service to offer.
I am member of All Saints. I am a Lay Eucharistic Minister. I am on the vestry. I have an assignment on the greeter rotation. I am “known to the treasurer”. In all of these roles, I am in the church building proper. It is a place familiar and safe in ways practical and transcendent. By contrast, the sidewalk felt quite unfamiliar and not necessarily safe. Abandoned buildings, rushing traffic and many pedestrians looking both worn and worn out.
This sidewalk experience was spiritually startling. How could life inside the church feel so safe and predictable when life on the church’s sidewalk felt so rough and complex? Surely a manifestation of near and far away.
My prayer is that, in this case, the near and far away move a lot closer together.
Gail B. 02/18/2016
For many Ash Wednesday is a curiosity. I remember being in school as a young boy that we could tell who was Catholic or Episcopalian by the smudges on foreheads on Ash Wednesday, (and sometimes on the day after depending upon how well folks had washed).
There is something deeply human about Ash Wednesday and the invitation in my tradition to the keeping of a Holy Lent.
Recently through the work of Richard Rohr and Ilia Delio and their connection between the Cosmic Christ and the origins of the universe, I have come to a state of nearly constant awe that we are all made of bits of the matter that burst forth from the womb of creation at the instant of the Big Bang.
We are all made of cosmic dust that has been present through all of time and we will return to the creative heart and imagination of God when we are dead and buried. It may seem to some a rather macabre thing to be in awe of.
For those of us who follow God through the life, ministry, death, resurrection and ongoing life of Jesus of Nazareth it seems to me this has to be the ground of our hope that all of this will end well.
For the next 40 days, excluding Sundays, I hope to rest in my awe and become active and faithful in new ways as I continue in the becoming, the continuing unfolding of what God seeks to do through me.
For me this kind of inner work is not limiting, but rather profoundly freeing. My 'success' as a follower of Jesus does not depend on my ideas, or my imagination, but chiefly in my willingness to watch and see, listen and hear, treasure and love the presence of the Cosmic Christ that dwells in all that is around us. Everything and everyone created bears the thumbprint of God.
That's nothing short of awesome as I've come to understand that word. Come Holy Spirit and guide me through my time in the desert to the place of my resurrection.