Friday, April 14, 2017

An Easter Story for the believer, the non-believer, and everyone in between

Once upon a time I worked for a man who claims he saw an angel

not just any 'ole angel, but one that showed up close and personal
right there in his house
in a dark room
full of light
and spirit
and God's presence
As he retold the tale to me and several others, I've never forgotten the feeling it gave me.

The Retelling: An Easter story for the believer, the non-believer, and everyone in between

I don't know how we got on the subject, except that religion and faith always seemed to be tumbling into our office conversations. One of us was an atheist, one a Buddhist, one a born-again Christian, a strict Baptist, one bitter agnostic, a charismatic who spoke in tongues, a transcendentalist trying to find himself, two scoffing doubters, one former Hell's Angel and one on the fence. We worked together as a team for three years, sharing lunches and elaborate parties, successes and flops.  We were all business every day all day until this day; when the subject turned to the preposterous notion of living breathing angels walking around on earth, and how do you account for sight unseen occurrences or do you at all, and what about the bodacious claim that somebody's "God" bends down occasionally for the likes of humans to intervene in the lives of humans, even to hand out the elusive undocumented miracle.

A few were already laughing at the thought, the Buddhist lady had a wiry sneer on her lips at the onset and I think I saw the tongue talker utter a prayer under her breath. Me? I was poised over an electric calculator, twirling my pencil in my hair, as was my usual custom when it came time to ponder the preposterous. 

I loved to analyze and observe. I loved the debate even more. The room was ripe for the picking apart of beliefs, chapter and verse. And I was about to embark (unknowingly soon) on a journey that would lead me to throw my Bible against the wall in some wild defiance of everything religious. The timing of my presence in that ragtag conclave was prophetic.

I could feel the charismatic getting antsy, the Zen Man just wanted some air, the doubters were circling and motorcycle man desperately needed a cigarette. The only ones stone-faced were the non-believers, who were so sure that such conversation would quietly reveal the true crazies in the office that they didn't even bother to roll an eyeball. Given enough time, one of the believers would trip up and hang themselves on a begat and that would be the end of it. No more ridiculous supernatural discussions for this crew. I wondered which one of us would dare broach the subject with a tale to tell. My money was on the charismatic, who was looking at this point a little like she forgot which begat begot Baalam's ass in the first place.

Until the only one in the bunch whose very nature was reserved and aligned with normalcy, organization, order and precision, the logical, rational, sane one among us, Chamber of Commerce ready, as predictable as a red line pen mark in the debit column of an accountant's spreadsheet, rose to straighten his tie. This towering beautiful man in his late sixties, whose mission in life was to organize the usher's rotation roster each week at the Starched-Shirt-Church-Of-The-Saints, make sure there were suitable flowers on the altar, and tally up the collection plate money, suddenly waxed awkward and unfamiliar right before our collective eyes.

Mr. Predictable sat down in a chair in front of my desk and leaned his head back on the wall. He closed his eyes. So unlike him. He reached for his handkerchief. My pencil stopped twirling. And suddenly those hard-lined angles with all the checks and balances took a squiggly left turn. I saw smudges. All the ink in the room dried up. As he stepped out of the careful box he'd created and deliberately lived in all these years, I think I heard the proverbial pen rip right through verse four of Just As I Am and land somewhere between an impeccably drawn ledger line in the bookkeeping book of boring that was his life. Boring life. Boring religion. Boring book. He was a walking talking Billy Graham revival most days. He even sang like Cliff Barrows. It was only when he began to weep (a sight we'd never seen before) that the atmosphere in the room turned from theological skepticism, I can't explain it. You listen.

There's something about seeing a widly successful man who had the world by the tail, sitting in a starched white shirt, black tie, shiny shoes and salesman's cologne, suddenly break down at remembering. There was something going on with his daughter, he said, and she was distraught. Everyone in his house was distraught. She was lost in her own peculiar way and no one could find her. He told it so well. And before we knew it we were all hanging on every word of the story; the wayward child, the worrisome nights, illness, pain, uncertainty, a parent's nightmare. All told in perfect angst and candor to his friends. A man who had always seemed staunch with a tad of sanctimonious.

Until something else showed up.

And that was long about the time the second set of  tears began to roll down the shiny cheeks of the all business businessman, falling in droplets on the front of his made-for-business shirt...."I went into her room..."
His hands now covered his face. We saw water on his fingers, heard pain in his voice. The smirks were gone at the sight of his courage as his chest constricted and heaved between shallow breaths of tears and the sound of a well grown man unable to speak without gulping for air, the kind of retelling that only happens when you've accidentally opened up a deep well of wound or memory you forgot you had, and instead of drowning again and again you decide in some God moment that it must be time to let down your guard because all you can do God help you is bare it. You let people into your sanctuary of secrets and whether or not they deem it true is no longer your concern. You know the feeling, don't you?

And then I saw...I saw...
He stopped. He couldn't go on. My friend wept and wept in the made-for-business room.
And I felt it. What he saw. Before he said it, I felt it. We all felt it. It was all over him. All over us. In our room too.
As if it had just happened to him all over again. A silence of palpable presence that he'd held in his memory for nearly thirty years. And a gratitude that the God he loved and worshiped would seek to send him comfort and a promise in the midst of one of his darkest days. The presence of the Angel was still fresh in his mind. The events that surrounded his life at that time changed and he was never the same.

His story helped me understand the frame of faith in which he walked. And it solidified a belief I've held most of my life - That you can't argue with an experience. I don't care if you're an intellectual, a fundamentalist, agnostic or atheist, a liberal Christian or a Bible-thumping sainted ball of confusion, if you don't have an experience, a definitive moment in time that you cannot logically explain, to back up what and why you believe in a Higher Power, it means nothing to you but empty words. You can argue from Genesis to John, as we did many times, but none of us could argue with his experience. His long ago unexpected meeting with an angel of light and protection for his beautiful daughter, was still strongly tethered to the present. Quite simply, he knew he was not alone. He knew he would never be alone. And in the retelling of it, I got a front row seat and witnessed firsthand this fundamental truth....that words are only powerful when they're attached to your heart.  It was his experience, that experience, that made all our blubbering banter on the subject of religion 'round the water cooler mean less than a jar of beans. Because when something that powerful manifests itself in your life and changes the situation, it changes you.

Thirty years later it changed us too.

  Richard H. Driehaus Gallery of Stained Glass, on the Navy Pier, Chicago, Illinois, USA
released to the public domain 
 The Annunciation  - Tiffany Glass & Decorating Company, c. 1895.
 Ecclesiastical Angels - Tiffany Glass & Decorating Company, c. 1890.
 Two Angels - Tiffany Studios, c. 1910.
Thomas Cooper Golch The Awakening 

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1 comment:

ilovemylife said...

I don't know if you remember that we first "met" when my blog post about my experience of family racism was selected for an award. I forget what the award was called. Anyway. I love to write. You obviously love to write. All day I have been moving toward sitting down at my piano, after my morning piano lesson was moved last minute to tomorrow. I give the lesson via Skype to a boy in Bahrain. But putting off even more, that sitting at my soulful place on the piano bench, I started reading your post. And I couldn't leave it. This post was so very moving for me. I will share it on facebook...the link. It raises a question or two, but I wanted to let you know how your retelling of your experience got in my heart and I felt so deeply touched. Much gratitude ❤️ Sandra Hammel

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