standing still, part 2

Biblestill another biblical reflection, based on Mark 10.46-52, for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, October 25, 2015

Standing still. There was one who taught me this life-lesson many years ago. Since then, there have been many others who, on many other occasions, have reinforced the lesson. Nevertheless, I remember this man, this brother because he was the first to teach me in such an eloquently unforgettable way.

New York City. The fall of 1974. The commencement of my seminary education. One day, immediately after morning worship and before my first class, I, still wearing my black cassock, dashed to the deli down the street thirsting for a good cup of coffee. On my return, as I neared the seminary door, I heard a raspy voice, “Holy father!” Before I could think, I had stopped and turned, startled at the sight of him. Before I could take another step away, he drew near. He was short in stature and stooped, his shoulders hunched. Face unshaven and scarred. Hair matted and dirty. Clothes disheveled and soiled. He smelled of sweat and the street.

“Holy father…” (I hadn’t the heart to tell him I was only a first semester seminarian.) “I’ve got to sleep again on the street tonight. I need a blanket.” Gladdened by the sincerity (and gratified by the simplicity) of his request, I offered to help. First looking around the seminary’s front desk and lobby, I raced to my nearby room, retrieved one of my blankets, returned, and triumphantly presented it to him. With a naked humility that cast a garment of shame over my pointless pride, he demurred, “Oh, no, holy father, I could never take your blanket. But thank you for your kindness.”

He held out his withered hand. “My name is Peter.” Taking his hand in mine, I answered, “My name is Paul.”

shaking hands

Instantly, we were shaken by the sacred sound of this ancient pair of New Testament names now spoken afresh in the same breath. Then our eyes widened, our hands tightened, I believe, in mutual recognition of a miracle. A miracle shared. A miracle of healing. A miracle that to the cry of our need (Peter surely being more aware than I) for connection, communion across the chasm of social distance, we, for each other, had stood still.

To this day, I remember Peter. I remember that in his face, wan and wrinkled, soiled and scarred, I beheld not a beggar, but a man, my brother, unblemished in God-given dignity.

Illustration: free-hand drawing

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4 thoughts on “standing still, part 2

  1. Thanks for sharing this story Paul. It’s beautiful.!’m amazed that Peter didn’t want to deprive you of “your” blanket though he desperately needed one. I think most people in need would take the blanket to keep themselves warm no matter who it had previously had belonged to. And how fitting that you both had powerful Biblical names as well!

    In my mind your encounter with Peter was not only a miracle of healing, it was “meant to be” the lesson it became as your career as a minister was in its infancy. I’m guessing you now have many, many more miracles of healing that you could share, I’d love to hear more sometime.

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  2. Yes, Loretta, I do have more stories; encounters with folk who reminded me of the value, the virtue of “standing still” and being present in the moment with them. As for Peter not taking the blanket, as I reflect, I’ve always understood his demurral to be an expression of his innate humility. In a way, I found and find it humbling and sad that he felt, I believe, that I, as a “holy father”, was too good for him to have used my blanket. It was as though he was saying he didn’t deserve it. Yet, in that (for whatever Peter thought and felt, I, at best, only can guess), my take-away was and is that he taught me a lesson about my pridefulness. That when I seek to do a good thing and find myself focusing largely on how good I feel about being/doing good and less on the benefit or blessing to and for the one I seek to serve, then my pride is pointless and lacks any virtue of innocence. In this regard, Jesus’ teaching (Luke 17.7-10) regarding service comes to my mind in that I need not take pride or expect anything special for having done what I ought to have done.

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  3. I have often run into people who feel unworthy – to be loved, to be considered a child of God, to be the recipient of generosity or kindness – and it makes me so sad. Because, equally often, I, thought I try through the expression of my love, cannot convince them otherwise – that they are indeed worthy, that they are a loved child of God … Often, I also find, that addiction of some sort is the burden that sabotages us from feeling worthy … Healing is such a necessity for us all … How do we help heal others?

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    • Corinne, well do I know this experience of encountering another who, for whatever reason(s), does not feel worthy or deserving of kindness. (Truth to tell, I know, too, the experience of my feeling that way.) I believe that all I can do is to continue to express, show, impart loving kindness, for I cannot control or dictate how another responds (or does not respond). Moreover, I think there is an inherent paradox in the mystery (miracle) of loving and being loved. None of us is worthy or deserving of love. For love to be love (whether that of God or, truly, of humankind as a reflection of God’s love) is unconditional, thus, unconditioned by the merit (or lack) of the recipient. Love loves (with benevolent generosity and hospitality) because that is what love is and what love does. There is a deeper oddity/irony in this, I think. For one who does not feel worthy of love to know that love is given/granted without regard to personal merit may prove difficult to understand or to accept.

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