Al totters across the street, dirty bag in one hand, an RC Cola can in the other.
He turns this way and that, comforting a vast congregation that only he can see,
raising the can up and down in a gesture of blessing.
Then he turns toward the street and, setting the can upon a fire hydrant,
he makes the sign of the cross again and again at the passing cars and
blesses the hurried people in them.
After a moment, satisfied with his work at this busy corner,
the grizzled pontiff picks up his scepter,
takes a swig, and moves slowly and quietly away.
As I watch this gentle one walk away, his work unappreciated and
ignored by so many passing, I envy the world in which he lives and the peace he possesses
which we have lost in our creation of this “paradise” known as Chaos of the Numb.
Then I bow my head and receive his blessing . . .
God, this city is your cathedral and the street people are your priests. They give me your blessing when I squeeze their shoulder and press a quarter into their hand. “God bless you.” Simple words that ring in my ears until they sink down into my belly to warm me on a cold winter’s day.
God, you are Deborah, who smiles at me with her rotten toothed smile and who, at the end of our usually brief conversations, bestows upon me a dirty hug and an alcoholic kiss.
God, you are the blind men I have been seeing a lot of lately. I’ve watched in wonder as they have made their way across intersections with nothing to guide them but a red-tipped cane. But they do not go timidly into that uncertain darkness and I have not seen one stumble, amazed at their confidence in the rhythmic tapping of a cane. It is a tapping that has begun to seep down into me to bang against the concrete sidewalks and streets of my soul.
I do not like this “seeing through a glass darkly.” I do not like this mist that swallows me up and leaves me like these blind men groping towards the future without the comfort of my past. All is dark and unknown. I do not like not knowing. But, like the citizens of that other ancient city of Athens, I too must worship at the “altar to an unknown God” in the temple of my heart.
For God, first and foremost, you are and forever must be unknown. You, O God, are mystery. It is when I try to nail you down that I am in danger of missing what new part of yourself that you are revealing to me. And, God, as I should know by now, you do not stay nailed down. You squirm and wiggle your way free from whatever cross I have placed you on to live again and to enter the locked and private chambers where I tremble in fear. I confess, O God, that too many times I have created you in my own image and have used you to justify who I am instead of who I must be.
O God, I thirst for the new wine but with my old skin. Like the snake that sheds its skin, I know that when I let you strip off my shell, I am vulnerable and there is pain. But I also know that for there to be growth, there must be a molting and for there to be new wine there must be new wineskins. Create a space within me for you, O God, and dwell there.
I confess, O God, that many times I think that I am too weak to be of service to you.
When I am weak, you are strong.
Too many times, I have claimed to know you and have locked you out of the inn of my soul.
Give me ears to hear your gentle knocking.
Too many times I have lost myself in the rush and noise of the Holidays and have not experienced the miracle and peace of Christmas.
Place before me a star.
Too many times I have thirsted for power and have forgotten that you delight in the ordinary and in ordinary people.
May I remember that you showed yourself first to a few shepherds and sheep.
God of the mite and the mustard seed;
God of the last and the ordinary;
God of the poor and the powerless;
God of Rahab the whore and blind Bartimaeus;
God of the unknown and the not yet,
God of the little and children;
God of a weak and tiny baby in a manger;
God of Deborah and Al and you and I;
May we, your children, in this season of paradox and peace,
take the Nestea plunge into the loving arms of your mystery and grace.
December 12, 1992