Uncovering Joy – A Turn in the Road
“When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made will, and live.” So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his cloak, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, „Who touched me?‟” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” (Mark 4:21-35)
There was a light fog scattered over lawns throughout the neighborhood. It was as though there was not enough weight to the cloud-like formations to let the fog really settle in. I made sure that as I walked on the street I needed to be facing oncoming traffic. I knew that I would need to be very aware of the need to jump up onto the curb and then a lawn as a vehicle approached. The wisps of fog were enough to conceal activity. I’m sure a driver could be surprised by running into a sudden cloud of fog after a bit of morning clarity – and completely miss my presence on the road. That scenario would be amplified by a cup of coffee in hand or a cell phone conversation. I was moving among clouds – we all were.
I’m not one who likes the images of people up in the clouds. For me, these are the images of cartoons. These are images of angels and the saints-long-gone now overlooking the adventures of those who still are a part of the community of saints – that is, those of us alive and moving from moment to moment wondering about what will come next and who we will be in the mist of what is considered “next.”
One image that grabs me about those angels and saints looking over the edge of clouds is that they are completely aware of the action “down here.” But down here, where we are walking and living and experiencing both joy and pain - life is unfolding for the first time. We are not spectators ready to see what will come next. Here and now is the unknown that may come about by chance. Here is the quagmire of bias and prejudice. Here is the unbounded laughter. Here is the deep despair that can overwhelm and lead some to go home – forever. Here is the joy of being found and knowing what it means to be welcome and safe. Here is the utter disconnect that happens when we forget about them and those who are not a part of our group. Here is now - without knowing what is about to be.
The fog reminds me that there is no separation between “up there” and “down here.” The saints of God walk together through all time and every place. We are a part of more than what we are able to call our own little world. And yet, there are no puppeteers steering us toward this and away from that. Rather, when we walk through the fog, we are handed a vision of how the Reign of God is at hand. It is no surprise that deep foggy days must have been quite an experience to ancient civilizations as though the heavens were here at hand. In our biblical storytelling, the clouds that lingered on the mountaintops were so often associated with the presence of God. Those clouds were “up there” and yet “up there” were places we from “down here” could go at times - like Moses at Sinai. Then again, those clouds “up there” often visited with us “down here” - fog changing our ability to see even what is so familiar.
Great storytelling goes on and on about the mix between “up there” and “down here” or, you could say, the mix between heaven and earth. They can be epic stories or simple stories of daily adventures. In that early morning fog of my walk, I must admit that I wondered about what will come in the middle of my wandering through the early-morning world that looks a bit like the stereotypical notions of a here that also carries with it a bit of there.
A quick turn around a corner brought me out of my preoccupation with fast-walking, doing my push-ups, and making sure I was safe from passing vehicles. There in the fog - barely visible through the darkness of early morning and the silent movement of those earth hovering clouds – a woman was helping a little boy into the backseat of a car that was parked in a line of other cars outside a small apartment building.
Let me pause here. It takes me all I can do to get myself out of bed and go out onto the streets of our neighborhood to walk and exercise for forty to fifty minutes. Some days, I blow it off...because I am able to do that. I reset the alarm and rest in bed for another hour. On other days, I make plans to walk at another time or tell myself that the day will be busy enough and I will be doing plenty of moving around within the day’s routine. There are so many different worlds spinning within the fog that covers over us. In the fog of that day I happened to walk through a few moments of a life so different from my own.
When we are given the opportunity to walk through the times and lives of others, we are given times of prayerful contemplation. This is another part of what I label as urban spirituality. Within the ordinary as I know it – was the ordinary of another world. The simple seeing of that which is not me can be enough to pull me beyond myself and learn to appreciate the wideness of this reality where heaven and earth merge within what often looks as mysterious as fog.
The woman with her young son was obviously a healthcare worker. We all know the dress. Though the colors and patterns vary it is still a familiar uniform in our society. These are blessed folks who go off to be with the most vulnerable in our society – the ill - the dying - the frightened - the lonely - the recovering - the beloved who are wounded in body or spirit. The first shift would be starting soon and she was on her way in the fog. Sticking in my mind and embedded in my heart was the little boy – waiting patiently as he stood by the car ready to be picked up from the street and put into the car seat already in place for him in the back seat. There is always more to life than that in which I see myself.
I wanted to speculate about their life. As much as I quite naturally do that, it would have been a luxury. Instead, I carry this encounter with me as a reminder. As we move along in the fog of life, each turn in the road makes available to us the “something more” of life and the diversity within our journeys. Moving along the way, I may have many concerns racing through my head and occupying my mind and actions - but my life is not all of life. Sometimes I think this is how we become more and more aware of that which is beyond us. We may find ourselves hit by oncoming events that we cannot avoid - and they change us. Then again, it will also be those sudden and unexpected glances that pull us out of ourselves so that we may be blessed by the mere presence of the stranger and another part of God’s unfolding presence among us.
This moment in the fog reminds me of the woman in Mark's gospel who was always nearby but never allowed to be fully present. She was pushed off into a dense fog so no one would see her. But just as the fog moves and we begin to see clearly here and there, we are thrust into more than we anticipated. The woman who came busting onto the scene in order to reach out and touch the opportunity for healing as Jesus was walking though the mass of people pressing in on him, didn’t even get a hearing. Jesus was on his way to saving a young girl and attempting to make his way through the crowd when there was a turn in the road – a surprise - a simple touch. We are not told what happened in and around that scene. We don’t know what was the “word in the crowd” when the movement of the day was turned to take note of this silent woman in the midst of this merging of heaven and earth – the Reign of God.
In my faithful imagination I wonder about the next days of that woman’s life - healed after twelve years of being hidden away – walked past by others – having to get out of the way of others. I wonder too about the next days of those from that village. How do you continue on the way when you begin to see a part of life that is not your own story - filled with your own concern? How do we make our worlds merge together so that they can be one? Do we simply pass by or can we – in the simple act of passing by – come to see life in a way that changes how we engage the world around us?
I expect that within my life I will make wrong turns along the way. I expect that when I go around a corner, there may be something I had not anticipated. There is something about turning a corner in life that can be frightening - so frightening it can keep us hanging back rather than moving forward. Just this morning - as I was once again walking through the neighborhood - I found myself caught up in all the action and motion and living that was going on as I turned each corner and pressed on down each street in the middle of the morning darkness. Most of it was predictable...the same house lights turned on - the bends in the roads - the shadows from the streetlights. But then, as I passed through an intersection there appeared to be a pack of dogs gathering as the base of a dip in the road. My heart dropped. With each step my pace slowed until I was at a complete stop. Panic. And then, a head turned – a deer. Urban deer! There were eight to ten deer who calmly but readily trotted off away from me. A turn in the road and there a young family begins the day - a woman reaches out to touch Jesus - a band of deer venture onto the asphalt road and well-mowed lawns. What’s next – the Reign of God!?