You and I live mostly on the plain, the horizontal experience of human life, our lives are largely predictable and marked by routine. We leave little room in our schedules for the unexpected. Yet, every once in a while we get a hint of transcendence of something beyond the everyday and routine. Here is a tale recounted by the writer Frederick Buechner;
A year or so ago, a friend of his died….One morning in his sixty-eighth year he simply didn’t wake up. It was about as easy a way as he could possibly have done it, but it wasn’t easy for the people he left behind because it gave them no chance to get used to the idea…or even to say goodbye….He died in March, and in May Buechner and his wife stayed with the widow of his dead friend.
That night he dreamed about his friend. He was standing there in the dark guest room looking very much himself in the navy blue jersey and white pants he often wore. He told him that he was glad to see him, how much that he was missed.
Somehow he acknowledged that. Then Buechner said, “Are you really there, Tom.” He answered that yes he was really there. “Can you prove it?” “Of Course”, was the reply. Then he plucked a strand of wool out of his jersey and tossed it to Buechner.
He caught it between his thumb and forefinger and the feel of it was so palpably real that it woke him up. And that’s all there was to it…….
Next morning he told the story over the breakfast table, he’d hardly finished when his wife spoke. She’d seen the strand of fibre on the carpet as she was getting dressed. Buechner rushed upstairs to see for himself, and there it was – a little tangle of navy blue wool.
Now what was that ? Buechner makes no claims for his story he just retells it. Coincidence, chance? Maybe, maybe not.
It was moving day. A young man was going to the big city, starting a new life. Putting the old behind him and starting with the new. It was a bright beautiful morning, the sun a virtual ball of flame rising in the east. So bright that the fellow driving his friends Thunderbird home, the morning after, didn’t see the shiny white Mustang that propelled the young college student towards his future. He ran the stop sign at 40 miles an hour. The force of the collision pushed the little Mustang head on into a telephone pole. You know Tom rarely wore his seatbelt – except on that morning.
And then a funny thing happened. After the initial shock of the double impact the first person Tom met – in the future that he’d been heading for….. was a middle aged man out for his walk, he had seen the accident and ran over to open the door of the car to let Tom out, this man who opened the door to Tom’s future….was his parish Priest. Funny that. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. All I know is that a few years later Tom changed career’s – he became a Priest.
These moments – and I know you have had them to – are maybe coincidental. A fluke. A quirk. Then again, maybe they are something more, a playful intrusion into our all too human lives – a blue thread on the carpet, a priest opening a door – sent by heaven to disrupt us. A peak behind the curtain of exterior reality. A whisper of providence. A hint of heaven. A suggestion that there is more to death than mere death, more to life than we see.
But, then maybe we shouldn’t make such a fuss over such moments. Maybe they mean nothing beyond certain glitches in the electrical throbs of the brain, or are mere coincidence. Or maybe they mean everything, connect us with a reality so deep, so real and wonderful, that if we were to look at it face to face we would be incinerated by its glory. So all we get is a peak. Hints.
I don’t want you to make too much out of such moments, bet too much of your life on a blue thread or a Priest’s timing; for behind the curtain there may be only emptiness. The voice you think you hear may be the wind and nothing more. Of course, you are betting your life on something. And such moments may be far too momentary, fragile, and ambiguous for you to stake a life upon.
After all, most of us live by what we can hold, touch, and chew, not on that which can be dismissed as mere coincidence.
Of course the lives that we live as a result may be flat, but at least they are unequivocal. And having bet our lives on the comfortingly unambiguous, something about us is annoyed, that’s right annoyed, when the mysterious vertical intersects with the sure and certain horizontal of our lives. Simply put we’re aggravated that God may be a tease !
A coincidence can be God’s way of remaining anonymous, or it can be just a coincidence. And a dream maybe no more than wishful thinking, or it may be a privileged peek into the inner workings of what’s really going on in the world.
Maybe, God really does come out to meet us, but maybe its always on God’s terms, not ours. Maybe God flirts, loves to tease us toward a reality that we – with our facts and figures, our empiricism and common sense – routinely walk past without a twitch of curiosity.
As one writer put it, “Maybe modern people have so many psychological problems because psychology is the only language we have left in which to talk about ourselves.” Maybe we’re all like the kid who wore earphones so long, volume turned all the way up, that the heavy metal music rendered his eardrums impervious to a whisper.
Maybe we don’t see God much because we’ve lost the capacity to look for God. We like to think that we’ve explained away most of the mysteries of life – but, then if that were true then how come we’re not making a better job of it?
You know it seems when ever we get everything just right, everything under control, our course set, we run into one of those vertical moments, when everything stops making sense. And sometimes, something is there, but we just can’t see it. Our eyes are dulled, or our vision unformed, uninstructed, undisciplined to look with appropriate curiosity and intelligence to see. I wonder what would it take to see ?
If what’s there is God, we shouldn’t expect to see it too clearly. It couldn’t be God if we couldn’t explain it some other way, for God is large, thick, ambiguous if God be God. So how do you explain that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca and Mary – even though they’ve all been dead for centuries – well in our tradition you don’t. It’s a mystery. How do you explain what happens to the bread and wine in the Eucharist – you don’t – it’s a mystery. Or maybe its nothing. Or maybe its something. Who but God really knows ?
The Christian life is in part about falling in love with the mystery and beauty and terror that loom large just behind the curtain of air that we move though. It is about hearing the still voice of God in the setting sun, or the vast night sky, in the silence of our hearts. And yes, even in the agonies and joys of human life. And maybe even in the coincidences of daily life there maybe a voice teasing us towards heaven.
You know this isn’t all that earth shaking. You could live your entire life and never once stop to consider any of this. There is always the next promotion, or car, or house to be hope for. Life will be better then we say. We’ll just kill time right here – surely life will get better. Or maybe you could live your life right now. And the mystery that surrounds us, that we regularly scoff at, just maybe the real source of hope.
Hope that doesn’t depend on everything going well – just on our willingness to pay attention. Our more evangelical brothers and sisters say the problem with churches like ours is that we have lost our sense of mystery, of there being anything beyond this life. Well maybe they are right – maybe its time we stopped running to the beat of this world. And fell in love with the mystery of this life. Take a solitary walk, take some time out of your day to just be quiet and listen to the world around you, listen to the mystery of your own heart beat.
It’s not easy – and its got nothing to do with our busy schedules and everything to do with the terror we feel that maybe there just isn’t anything there. But then maybe, just maybe something of the vertical will interrupt this carefully constructed horizontal world of ours, and it might be a coincidence, it might just be electricity in the brain, or it might be………
Well lets just say it might be a mystery of God and the Holy Spirit and how she chooses
To playfully dance around and in and through our lives.