But this weekend my foot-dragging has been pricking at my conscience more. And I am pretty sure it's because of Father's Day. Father's Day holds no special meaning for me any more. My dad passed away in 2007, and yet all week I have been deleting message after message from chain stores that want me to know what I can buy for my late father.
I thought about that for a moment. There is nothing for dad in this world. He's not part of this world. And the last few years of his life, he didn't enjoy comfort in the body which held his soul here. One of the few things I could do for my dad was to rub his neck, sometimes his shoulders and his arms as well. The disease that was progressively taking away his ability to move made his muscles stiff and achy. And although he wasn't thrilled when I told him that I was leaving a career in radio journalism to become a massage therapist, I know he was thankful for my newly-acquired skills when he felt my fingers making gentle, yet firm, circular motions along his neck.
Both my parents factor into my spiritual autobiography, but it was my dad's death that brought me back into the church. Not just for the funerals although that was the start of it. But something bizarre happened when my dad died. I heard hymns.
I know. That sounds like, "I see dead people." And it is a little like that sort of "The Sixth Sense" weirdness.
But really, my head became a virtual jukebox of the 1982 Hymnal: "I Bind Unto Myself Today"; "God is Working His Purpose Out"; "Crown Him With Many Crowns"; "The Strife is O'er"; and even fraction anthems from my youth when we did Morning Prayer every other Sunday and some of the tunes at the Eucharist like Agnus Dei. It was unsettling, almost maddening, at times. And the intention seemed to be geared toward shoving me out of my comfort zone of spending Sunday mornings drinking coffee and doing crossword puzzles into this church that I had decided was dead to me years ago. I was being called to be present in a Christian community and not in a fake way. And I was to arrive as myself with no defenses, no chips on the shoulder, and my fists loosened and at my side. It was only in this state of being totally receptive and unbounded that I could feel myself showered in a steady rain of words from Scripture to hymns to the prayers which all spoke a single phrase:
"You are loved, totally and completely, unconditionally, forever and ever."
These words watered the soil of my being and the tiny mustard seed I wore around my neck since I turned 16 was finally coming into its full growth and pushing itself above the weeds that had been choking it down. My dad's life had reached sunset, in fact the sun had gone down below the horizon. And out of that death came a sunrise in my heart. Or is that S-o-n?
This morning, as I idly flipped pages in the hymnal, I landed on "Eternal Father, Strong to Save," also known as the U.S. Navy hymn, and one of the pieces we sang at my dad's funerals. Somehow it seemed fitting to see this one on Father's Day.
Eternal Father strong to save
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep
O hear us when we cry to thee
For those in peril on the sea.
Interesting since so much of this spiritual journey has felt like a boat ride, one in which I am always looking for a way either to steer the boat or find a way out of the boat. Or leap into the belly of a whale and hope that any further pestering from God will pass me by. None of which has seemed to work. Perhaps it's time for me to listen to the words of this hymn, too.
Eternal Father, strong to save....