Quite frequently, Rachel will send me an email with a quote or a link or an attachment and a short message that says, “Read this.”
She did it again this morning … and it is too good not to share. It comes from Eugene Peterson’s book, Christ in Ten Thousand Places. It’s the story of an old woman from his childhood, Sister Lychen. A staunch (and somewhat grumpy) Pentecostal woman who held to a fiery belief that the end was near; and that our most important spiritual task is to hold on until He does.
Rachel wanted CJ and I to read this because “it puts new words to what we want.” Yes. Yes it does. Eugene re-imagines his interactions with her in this way. Oh Lord, help us lift up the blinds!
I imagine a scenario in which I am again ten years old; it is a month or so before Sister Lychen dies. I go to her house and knock on her door. She opens it and invites me in. I am no stranger there, for my mother occasionally sent me over with a plate of cookies. The usual routine was that after she let me in she would go to the kitchen and bring me a glass of milk. We would sit there in her knickknack-crowded living room with the shades pulled. I would eat my cookie and drink my milk in the darkened, sunless room. But this day, in my fantasized scenario, while she is in the kitchen getting the milk, I let up the blinds from all the windows. As she returns with the milk, I exclaim, “Sister Lychen, look! The world!” Startled, she drops the milk and shatters the glass. In her confusion I take her hand and lead her across the street and down a trail to a swampy place, Lawrence Slough, where I and my friends loved to go. I show her the turtles and the frogs – she had never seen either. I show her a nesting osprey waiting for the next fish, the downy heads of its chicks just visible on the nest. She is amazed. Just then a white-tailed deer leaps from a tangle of cattails. She asks what it is and I tell her it is one of Solomon’s gazelles. She is astonished. I am afraid that she is getting too excited and so lead her back home and help her clean up the spilled milk and broken glass.
The next Sunday in worship, she stands to her feet at the usual time but she doesn’t say the usual words. This time she says, “An angel visited me this week and showed me wonders I’d never seen. He said he’d come back on Thursday and show me more. I’m not sure I want to leave and `be with the Lord’ yet.”
Each succeeding Thursday I go to her house, take her by the hand, lead her down the path into Lawrence Slough, and show her more wonders. One day we stay late in the evening and watch the setting sun throw a kaleidoscope of color over the surface of the water. She is in awe. One afternoon we watch the kingfisher catch minnows and fly off singing his triumphant scratchy imitation of a rusty gate. She is enthralled. Another day I bring sandwiches and half a loaf of stale Wonder Bread; we sit on a log at the edge of the water, eat our lunch, and feed two swans and seven or eight mergansers who are showing off their dashing swept-back hairdos. She loves it. As we walk home, holding hands, she says, “And to think all this has been going on practically in my backyard!” Each Thursday she notices and comments on connections or echoes between the Sunday hymns, psalms, and Scriptures and what she is feeling, seeing, and remembering from her childhood as we meander in Lawrence Slough. Sunday is no longer a rehearsal of escape, an anticipation of the final escape; it is an exposition of the week, or at least the Thursday segment of it. She never gives me credit as the angel, but each Sunday she does give an accounting of that week’s Thursday angel revelation. And each week the congregation remarks on the lessening enthusiasm in Sister Lychen for being raptured from behind her drawn shades. The concluding sentence of her weekly report in the testimony time takes on a Genesis rhythm: “I’m not sure I want to leave quite yet.”
And then, after four weeks of this, Sister Lychen dies.
This is all fantasy, of course, casting my ten-year-old self in the role of ministering angel. But my fantasy has a factual base in those childhood years of listening to Sister Lychen’s rhythm-obliterating end time liturgy each Sunday. And for me now, the fantasy has turned into a way of life: the lived quality of Genesis i fuels my efforts in trying to raise the blinds in the living quarters of so many people I know and have known; to raise the blinds and get them out of the house between Sundays to enter into this vast, rhythmic extravaganza, seeing and hearing, tasting and touching and smelling what God has created and is creating by his word: sky and earth, plants and trees, stars and planets, fish and birds, Jersey cows and basset hounds, and the crowning touch, man and woman – look at them! – wonder of wonders, male and female!
So here is what I want to say: the way in which this Genesis i text on the creation gift of time gets inside us is through the act of worship, believingly listening, obediently receiving the Word of God, but if the blinds are down all week, we cut ourselves off from the textures and rhythms of ordinary time that is the context of that worship. Worship is the primary means for forming us as participants in God’s work, but if the blinds are drawn while we wait for Sunday, we aren’t in touch with the work that God is actually doing. These Genesis work-rhythms are reproduced in our lives and brought to focus in the Sabbath-rest command that enables our participation. When we walk out of the place of worship, we walk with fresh, recognizing eyes and a re-created obedient heart into the world in which we are God’s image participating in God’s creation work. Everything we see, touch, feel, and taste carries within it the rhythms of “And God said … and it was so … and it was good….” We are more deeply in and at home in the creation than ever.
Eugene H. Peterson. Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology