Here is the world.
Beautiful and terrible things will happen.
Don’t be afraid. – Frederick Buechner
“How are you doing these days, Joe?” my friend asked.
“I’m doing really well.”
“Well, you are about the only one I’ve asked lately that can say that,” he said.
As soon as he asked me the question, I flashed on the flow of activity on a recent Sunday. It has been a few days since that day, and I am still feeling the afterglow. Would you like to know what made it so good that it echoes down through the corridors of my mind until today?
Thanks for asking.
First, I participated in a few things that are essential to my vocation. Like standing in front of a congregation and leading in prayers, confessions, officiating silence, and sharing God’s Word. I’ve grown as comfortable doing this as making coffee every morning, I’ve been doing it so long.
On this particular Sunday, I experienced what theologian John Claypool calls the “preaching event”. That is when a preacher connects with the Holy Spirit and then reaches out and connects with the soul of a congregation he loves. That moment becomes a “thin place” between heaven and earth—where the distance between the eternal and the temporal is thin as a baby’s breath. It doesn’t happen every Sunday or every sermon, but when it happens the divine spark of eternity ignites preacher and people. The temptation is to try to replicate it as if you could catch lightning in a jar. It can’t be done.
Then, after church, my wife and I were invited to my youngest son’s home for Sunday lunch. He and my daughter-in-love prepared a wonderful and satisfying meal. It was sacramental to sit across the table from my son and hear him say grace over the meal he had prepared in his home for his parents. But, before the meal, I bounced my youngest granddaughter on my knee and gave her so many gray whisker kisses on her little neck that she laughed out loud. Her laughter made my eyes brim with tears.
Sitting on their sofa, drinking rich, dark, black coffee, and putting my arm around my wife while we ate a Haagen Daz ice cream treat made me feel as loved as I have felt in a long time. All was well in my familial world.
As we arrived home to our mountain cabin after lunch it was unusually hot for the mountains. I remember looking at the indicator on the dash of my truck and seeing 88 degrees glow in a garish blue light.
I said to my wife, “I’m going to go into the coolest part of the house, lay down, and see what happens.”
You know what happened. My mouth eased open, my breathing got heavy, and I growled in about 25 grace-filled minutes of sleep that was as delicious as the ice cream I had tasted on my tongue earlier and as satisfying as the laughter of my granddaughter.
Refreshed, I walked out off our deck and into the shadow of Mount Princeton, fired up my wood splitter, and spent the next two hours splitting two cords of green Chinese Elm I had piled up by my woodshed. The rounds were extremely heavy with moisture and the splitter often moaned as much as I did working the rounds into manageable fuel for a future mid-winter fire.
The interior of the split wood was a mixture of streaks of mocha colored layers that gave way to pancake colored swirls. It was warm to the touch inside the damp wood. Fermenting. Like it was preparing for winter itself.
My arms and, more significantly, my lower back began to give way as I counted how many more rounds were left that needed to be split so that they would cure in time to be burned by December. Five, four, three, two, and finally—as the sun slipped behind the shoulder of the mountain, I split the last piece of wood.
I turned off the noisy splitter, walked into the house to get a cold drink.
My wife asked, “Did you have fun?”
I winked at her, smiled, and closed the door behind me and with drink in hand, walked out to sit on the deck to admire my pile of firewood and my mountain. I stayed there until the bats came out to hunt mosquitoes. I watched them flit here and there in their erratic flight patterns and said to myself, “Yes, I had fun.”
Vocational fulfillment, love of my family, deep rest, and splitting firewood.
That happened on a recent Sunday. And I am still enjoying it these many days later. I’m doing well, in the midst of a world that is not.
Thanks be to God.
And thanks for asking.