|Rev. Greg Syler|
A few weekends ago, after the last crumbs of cake were swept off the tables and the kindly chit-chat of coffee hour had ended, my four-year-old daughter, Carter, and I found ourselves killing time on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. We washed the Jeep, then the dog – leaving the child nearly as wet as the black lab – then we took a bike ride down the lane.
Coasting down a hill, we came upon a parishioner’s home, set atop a gentle slope that leads to a wide creek and, then, the Potomac. “We’ll go see Ms. JoAnn,” Carter declared.
“I don’t know,” I said, cautiously, “she might be napping. I don’t want to intrude.”
“She probably wants to see us,” Carter followed.
She was right: JoAnn called us in and was, in fact, very happy to see us, in part because her television system was stuck on what I could only determine was a Korean music video station, channel 9,000-something.
“I can’t get this TV to work,” she said, handing me a remote that looked like a NASA launch device. Equally flummoxed, I clicked a lower station number which took us to a PGA tournament. “I don’t want to watch golf,” JoAnn said. “What should we do now?”
“Let’s ride the golf cart,” Carter suggested and off we went, up the hill to the neighbor’s farm. The family was outside doing afternoon chores when we rode up – Anne, the Portuguese Water Dog, barking our entrance. “Want to see something?” Ms. Robin asked Carter as the golf cart came to a stop. Her little eyes lit up and away they went, hand in hand, into another pasture, while the rest of us stood around talking.
A few days earlier, some baby goats were born. In time, the rest of us trudged up to see the goats, passing the chicken coop and came upon the gate which led us to the mother goat and her three wobbly-legged kids. Carter heard us, turned toward me and said, “Shhhh, Daddy, they’re babies.” That entire time she had been fixed in that place, patiently, quietly, alongside her friend, Ms. Robin, petting the newborn kids, aware that she was in the presence of a gift.
It was a good interruption: “Don’t come any closer,” God once said to Moses; “take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”(Ex.3:5)
For a while longer that afternoon we played with the goats, Carter got a ride on the horse, in time we said goodbye and even walked out with the reddest, freshest looking radishes I’ve ever seen, plucked right out of the vegetable garden and rinsed with the hose. We wound up back at JoAnn’s house, where the two of us talked and ate peanuts and Carter played with baby dolls. Eventually, it came time to head back home for dinner, bath, and bedtime.
“That was really fun,” I said to Carter as she pedaled her way back up the hill to the rectory.
“Yeah,” she said, “can we do that again sometime?”
“Of course,” I replied, and meant it. Of course we can. Of course we should.
Long after the dusk faded – and Carter was fast asleep – I found myself wondering how I’d classify the way I spent my time that day. If I had to punch a clock or describe what I do (when I’m not working that half-day a week) or prove via the sterile, secular tools of a narrative budget or result-based appeal for money why it is that churches exist, I’d probably blabber something that might sound like what the Prayer Book calls the mission of the church: “…unity with God and each other in Christ.”
A significant component of our ministry is predicated on the idea of presence. As God has made himself known to us, our response is the same – being present, treasuring that which God is giving us. Maybe that’s what’s meant by that intriguing line in that collect from Compline – “…shield the joyous” – which might not be as peaceable and simple as you might otherwise think, not for those of us who live so closely to the heart of the institution called ‘church’ that we spend far too much time planning, strategizing, analyzing, and worrying.
There’s a gift in our midst. It just requires, from time to time, a fearless, open-hearted soul to knock on that door, insist on a golf cart ride and have the wherewithal to know she’s already standing in sacredness. “And a little child shall lead them,” the prophet foretold.
Rev. Greg Syler is the rector at St. George's, Valley Lee. Share your thoughts, comments, and questions on Facebook.