And in that instant I understood that if I were to pay attention to the spaces between and just behind the things I thought I needed to look at, there was no limit to what I might witness . . . It’s not just the genius or the personal friend of [God] who can be privy to great visions. Sometimes all it takes is looking just to the side of the obvious. . . . beauty and epiphany bide their time in the sidewise glance. – Trebbe Johnson in “Where’s the Temple”
Before my children came along and life turned topsy-turvy, I
spent a year training as a Chaplain through a residency at a large regional hospital. Several times a month my fellow residents and
I worked grueling on-call shifts, covering the long, dark hours from 4 pm until
8 am the following day.
After a long night on-call the last thing I wanted to do was
fill the chapel fountain, but there was no avoiding it – it had to be done. If we didn’t fil the fountain, the pump
would blow, again, and the Pastoral Care Department Budget couldn’t handle any
more pumps, at least that’s what the Department Head said. So, on my way to brush my teeth in the
women’s room and freshen for the day ahead, or after a rousing middle of the
night emergency in the trauma department, I would turn into the small chapel
that seemed strangely spooky in the dark quiet of the hospital’s
The fountain sat, bubbling, in the middle of the small gray
space. The room, constructed it seemed,
of great slabs of gray stone, resembled a tomb and I didn’t relish venturing
into its dimly lit cave. Moving quickly
I headed to the Islamic prayer corner, stepped gingerly over the prayer mat and
opened the door to a hidden room that housed, among other things, an organ and a white plastic
Grabbing the bucket ,I headed to the women’s room just down
the hall where I would fill it in the public sinks.
The sinks, of course, were equipped with automatic shut-offs and were
too shallow to hold the bucket, so I had to fill and dump, fill and dump with a
secondary Styrofoam vessel poached from the cafeteria while battling to keep
the water on. My twin boys who play “fill
and dump” endlessly in the bathtub would’ve love the job, but I and my fellow
chaplains were less enthused.
Walking in quick little steps I would gingerly carry the full bucket
back down the hall trying not to slosh and spill, then into the chapel where I
dumped it into the little bubbling square.
Then, if I were really doing the job well, I would repeat the whole process.
We were really supposed to do two
buckets a night, but on the nights when I felt with certainty that five more
minutes spent filling and dumping would prove to be the end of me, I got by
Often, someone forgot to fill the fountain. Often, we complained. And often, we suggested with no little amount
of indignation, that the job was beneath us and should be added to the long
list of tasks performed by the maintenance department.
One day, though, as we were cycling through yet another
stream of indignation and discontent, our department head spoke up. While I don’t remember his exact words, he
said, in his typical calm, quite manner, something to the effect of, “You know,
this comes up every year. Every new
group of residents wants to get out of filling the fountain.”
Then that old gray-beard added, “I always like to think of
filling the fountain as a symbol of how we care for the spiritual health of the
hospital. We are bringing living water
to the people here and when we don’t bring it, things run dry.”
It takes a certain kind of vision, doesn’t it, to recognize
the potential for the mundane tasks of daily life to be transformed into prayer,
into a window – a threshold – for the holy.
This, I believe, is how Jesus saw the world. This is why Jesus could watch a woman sweeping
or a hen gathering or a farmer sowing and see beyond flesh and blood to the image
of God made manifest, glimpses of the holy truths that undergird the warp and
weave of our flesh and blood world.
For me to be a follower of Christ is to make this
transformation too, to allow for daily incarnation, to seek it even, in the
smallest and simplest moments of my day.
To me, this is why Lent matters, this season in which our outward
practices become a reflection of our growing spiritual freedom, this season in
which we attempt to “bear about in our bodies” in some new way, the life and
death and resurrection of Jesus (2 Cor 4:10).
During Lent we affirm, as a community, that even our most earthly desires – our growling stomachs, our sugar-craving appetites – might open in us a doorway into the presence of the Living God.
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