Epiphany

ncJanuary 8th was the fourteenth anniversary of my mother’s death. Seeking a place for quiet and reflection, I was drawn to the National Cathedral. I’ve been an occasional visitor to the Cathedral over my years in the city, but had visited more frequently in the preceding months for events large and small – a memorial service for Nelson Mandela, candlelight Christmas carols, an Evensong service. Each time I had been moved by the experience, touched by a combination of music, words, and the light, and, ultimately, by an ensuing sense of peace and stillness. On this special day of remembrance, I needed sanctuary and I knew I would find it there.

The Cathedral was relatively empty when I arrived and I went to a small chapel near the back. I lit a candle and sat alone among the rows of chairs. I am not sure if I’d ever opened the Book of Common Prayer on previous visits, but, in search of comfort, I began to read the sections devoted to funerals and burials. One prayer drew me back over and over again: “Father of all, we pray to you for those we love, but see no longer: Grant them your peace; let light perpetual shine upon them.” I imagined that light shining on my mother, shining on all of my departed loved ones. I felt its warmth. What more could I want for her, for them – for me – than to be at peace and in the light?  I did, in fact, leave feeling more at peace, though I still needed something more that day – maybe just more time. I returned a few hours later for the choral Evensong, again reading those prayers as the music filled the Great Choir.

labThe experiences that day stirred something in me. I went to Sunday services at the Cathedral for the first time and returned repeatedly the following week when the Cathedral’s central nave was emptied of its chairs for a week of special programs, Seeing Deeper. I was exalted by choral music unlike any I’d ever heard – voices echoing on all sides through that glorious space. I walked the labyrinth and rose for morning prayers, watching as the early light streamed through the stained glass and bathed the Cathedral’s mighty pillars and arches. I came to experience the Cathedral as familiar, a grand and mighty structure that offered space for my soul to expand and quiet corners for reflection. The Cathedral – and its keepers – offered a warm embrace.

I returned again that Sunday, Epiphany II. In his sermon, the Cathedral Dean, the Very Rev. Gary Hall, spoke of what he had witnessed during the week of Seeing Deeper, watching those of us who had come as seekers. Interpreting the morning’s reading, he spoke of a “truth about the relations between God and us.” That truth, he said, is that “All the time we have been searching for God, God has been searching for us.” Suddenly, I had a vision of myself lost and searching in the woods, but no longer alone. I was comforted by the image of God searching the woods for the lost me.

“The one we have been looking for turns out all the time to have been looking for us,” said Hall. “That one knows that we need life and purpose and meaning.” As he went on, weaving in the story of Martin Luther King, Jr., and speaking to all of those gathered for the service, I felt as though he was speaking directly to me. “That one holds out to you the gift of life, of identity, of community, of meaning and purpose. That one calls you into a life in which you can become not only a seeker of God but a seeker with God of others, a life in which you serve as an agent of love and justice, healing and hope in the world. This search and call are not only about being found and saved. They are about a new life in which we, as Jesus did, offer life and hope to others.

And there, in a space that had once seemed like a distant monument perched on the hill and now felt like a true sanctuary, I had my own epiphany.

I had come into these weeks drained by my work at Joseph’s House, questioning my ability to remain engaged in the community as fully as I hoped to be. I knew Joseph’s House well when I joined the staff a little over a year ago, having served on the board for many years, but the day-in and day-out of service was more taxing than I imagined. My job is focused on the administrative, which in a small non-profit can require lots of juggling and some worry, but I also strive to be in meaningful relationships with those we serve. That takes time and energy and it can be a struggle. I am, at times, challenged by personalities, emotional and physical setbacks, “bad” life choices, and my own impatience, anxiety, inexperience and judgment.

I come to this job, to this service with a compassionate heart – that’s what led me to this small corner of the world. I experience that my heart does open the door to deep connections and real love within this community. And, yet, in that moment, I realized that my heart and my ego are not enough. I can’t do it alone; it’s exhausting. The realization that I could, instead, serve with God as an “agent of love and justice, healing and hope in the world,” was a relief. This work – and my life itself – must be rooted in something deeper and stronger, something far greater than me. “Life and purpose and meaning … have always been on offer and are ready, any time, for the taking.”

As the sermon concluded, the road ahead seemed filled with more possibility and Dean Hall’s closing words echoed my own experience in the weeks before, “God’s search for us has led us first into this Cathedral and now out into the world.” Amen.

Comments

  1. Linda Crowe says:

    Scott – thank you for sharing this. It was lovely, and just what I needed today.

  2. Scott, this is wonderful!
    Whenever you’re down in Nelson County, feel free to visit Trinity Episcopal, Oak Ridge Rd. The door is ALWAYS open.
    Eve

    • Scott Sanders says:

      Thanks for the comment and the generous invitation. Look forward to seeing you next time I’m at Tye River!

  3. Susan Breeding says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I sometimes need encouragement to continue helping refugee families with few resources other than love and tenacity. I believe I am partnering with God.

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