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Pastoral ponderings . . .
Our congregation is grieving the death of a long-time friend.Gordon Smith was the organist for over 50 years at Mount Tabor and passed away just before Easter Sunday at the age of 78.Gordon lived in the same house near 7th South and 13th East his whole life.He was an only child.Sadly, his is mother died when he was only 2 years old.His father raised him, cared for him, provided for him, as an engineer on the Union Pacific RR.His father loved classical music, and made sure Gordon had piano lessons.Soon after, Gordon heard a pipe organ being played, and was drawn to that.His father supported him, until he died when Gordon was 14.At age 14, a music teacher took him under his wing and gave him lessons at the pipe organ.
Gordon lived alone in his house, ever after.But he was never lonely, never afraid; with music and the radio as his companions. Music led him to the church and the radio led him to the community of amateur radio operators in Utah.And what adventures he had!Since his death, the wonderful story-telling among his friends has begun.To say that Gordon was unique, even a little eccentric, would be an under-statement! He lived simply in his family’s house.He rarely cleaned.He never owned a washer or dryer.He often took public transportation.He often walked to classes he audited at the U.He often looked like he got all his clothes from the Road Home shelter! He was a night owl, and was known in his younger years to enjoy practicing at Tabor, at 2 or three in the morning.He had the most delightful, humble sense of humor.He was very, very smart man.He had a mind that could combine computer engineering (explaining the hard-wiring off the top of his head)with writing software in the earliest days of Fortran.
Once when he was on a city bus in town not far from home, a fellow passenger gave him $2 and told him he hoped things turned around for him real soon! Another time he was in Smith’s just before Thanksgiving and another kind soul felt so sorry for him, they bought his groceries for him saying, “Hope things turn around real soon for you.”Maybe it was the washboard and tub in his backyard? I don’t know.The man was a genius, truly a modern renaissance person, and we’ll miss him dearly like so very many others in the City.
I think the Christian way is a way of shared grief and suffering: sharing the non-verbal, soulful exchange with each other.An experience that pixels can’t replicate. And I think the Christian faith, lived long enough, can develop emotional intelligence in us.That’s what compassion comes down to for me: emotional intelligence.And I think the Christian way; our rites and traditions, are meant to slow us down, take time apart to truly feel our feelings not busy our way out of them. Acknowledge what it feels like to be in a helpless place and be there with each other, accompanying each other.
I think this way of living in Time, in History, is meant to be centering and I think it’s inherently counter-cultural. Because what does our dominant culture tell us? “Man up. Get over it. Time is money. Be productive. Get on with it.Move forward. Plan. Work.” In our culture, grief is an obstacle; even a weakness.
But the way of Christ acknowledges a season of sorrow, calling us to enter and set aside a sacred time for intentional grief, for acknowledging the loss not flipping the channel or scrolling to the next thing.Sacred time in the Christian way is called “Kairos” a time of God’s entering into where the infinite enters time, and disrupts “Chronos” the time measured by industry, finance, business, productivity where we punch in the time clock, turn in our time cards. Kairos is a special moment in history a moment the Christian way calls us to discern, recognize, and honor.
I believe grief is Kairos and grief is inconvenient.But grief is the soul’s work.That’s why I think white culture doesn’t get it. “What do you mean, everything just stops?We can’t stop.We have deadlines.Time marches on!” Chronos marches on, but Kairos is something different.I see Kairos embraced in indigenous cultures. I saw it in the Oglala Lakota tribe’s 7 Sacred Rites.One of the rites is called “Wiping of the Tears.”When person in the tribe has died there’s a ritual that lasts a full year. Four seasons are set aside to acknowledge the loss to the tribe. To feel the loss, in each step, in each turn of the season, for one year.When someone dies in Lakota culture, everything is expected to stop.Nothing takes greater precedence.Nothing is more important, than acknowledging the presence of Kairos.No matter where they live, throughout the country or the world, members of the family stop everything they are doing, and leave for home.Nothing is more important than sharing the season of grief and sorrow in person.
To me this way of being in time comes closest to the Christian ideal.It makes room for peace that world’s distractions cannot give because distractions take us out of Kairos.“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” Christ says.Our congregation is grieving many losses.So much is different since the pandemic came.So many have left, or died, or moved away.When we physically return to the round table, we are returning to a sacred center.A center, a hub, that connects us with the seen and the unseen.Those we are blessed to see on a given Sunday, and all those we believe are unseen, yet fully present with us here in the mystical communion of saints. Because Christ is present, they are too. That’s what the Table represents for me.The center where Kairos always meets us. Our round table, in a round sanctuary, is where Kairos dwells for us.Being there has meaning.Being present has meaning.Being there is being re-connected, around a hub that is Christ.And I think remembering, intentionally and often, is counter-cultural in the American way of life but everything about what it means to be the Body of Christ. -- Pr. David