By Bill Lewellis
[A column published in The Morning Call, May 2003]
My next to last step when preparing a sermon plays out on Saturday morning at a local diner where I browse through my notes while having breakfast and much coffee. I glance randomly at the faces of strangers. Might anything I’ve written be useful to anyone in this place?
Something good always happens. I almost always discard cute phrases to which I was wedded a few days earlier. Ernest Hemingway, I believe, called this “killing your darlings?” *
Something else happened a few weeks ago. Seeing that my coffee cup was full, the waitress on refill duty said, “You’re good.”
Lose the notes, I chuckled. Anne gave you the sermon. This is your waitress. Listen to her.
At all times, according to another Anne, author Anne Lamott, 37 voices let us know how we are doing. Thirty-five have the job of telling us how awful we are. To hell with them, she says. Listen to the other two.
In all of life, she said, we need to hold onto great friends and eccentric relatives, the people who love us even when they see who we are.
Mark, the gospel writer, tells us that Jesus took his inner circle – Peter, James and John – to a high mountain, suggesting a place where people encounter God. They saw Jesus transformed. Mark’s Greek word is the word from which we get metamorphosis, the process by which a caterpillar becomes a butterfly – a truly dramatic transformation.
“This is my Son, the Beloved,” said the voice from the cloud. Nearly the same words God spoke at Jesus’ baptism, except that at the baptism God addressed Jesus. Here, on the mount, God addresses the disciples. “Listen to him… Keep on listening to him.”
Fred Rogers, who died a few months ago at 74 after raising generations of our TV-watching children, helped many understand that that you don’t have to do anything sensational in order to be loved – unless you live in a dysfunctional family – and that “there’s only one person in the whole world like you.”
Life’s trick: integrate that without becoming narcissistic -- come down from the mountain and love one another. “When you reach the mountaintop, you’re only halfway,” says a mountain climbers’ proverb.
“Once we recognize God's great secret, that we are all meant to be God's sons and daughters, we can't avoid the call to see one another differently,” said Rowan Williams a few weeks ago during a sermon at the liturgy wherein he was enthroned as Archbishop of Canterbury.
“No one can be written off; no group, no nation, no minority can just be a scapegoat to resolve our fears and uncertainties. We cannot assume that any human face we see has no divine secret to disclose: those who are culturally or religiously strange to us; those who so often don't count in the world's terms… We have to learn to be human alongside all sorts of others, the ones whose company we don't greatly like, the ones we didn't choose, because Jesus is drawing us together into his place, into his company.”
Listen to God calling you beloved. Forget the 35 voices – listen to the other two. Listen to your waitress. Be in love transformed.
* When I wrote this in 2003, I thought “kill your darlings” was advice from Ernest Hemmingway. Later, I learned it was William Faulkner’s. Thanks. Bill