Friday, October 6, 2023

"What do you think?"

 Since my father was a minister, there were several expectations for an adolescent son. One was that I would be in church every Sunday. Another was that I would attend youth group meetings and events. A third was I would teach a church school class when they couldn’t find a teacher. Also, I would sing in the choir according to my age; children’s choir, youth choir, adult choir. Actually, the latter adult choir was not so much an obligation as something I liked. Partly it was an opportunity to be in the presence of older people who were enjoying themselves, and partly it was simply that I liked to sing.

Sitting in the adult choir loft was different from sitting in a pew. For one thing, I was looking at the back of my father’s head. That made him more of the minister and less my father. Probably that helped him communicate better from the pulpit to yours truly. 

Whatever it was, as I sat there listening one Sunday morning, I heard my father say something that struck me, and I had to say to myself, “that’s the Truth,” with a capital T. I’d never felt that way before, about anything I had read or heard. This was new!

These days I think about how Gandhi’s name for God was Truth, with a capitol T. And I can’t help but believe that in that moment in the choir loft, I was opened to the movement of some Holy Spirit and a calling to the pursuit of that Truth in my own life. As an old man, I now realize how difficult a pursuit it is, given the nature of the ego and our seeming human inability to get below the surface of things.

The phrase Gandhi coined for nonviolence, “Satyagraha,” comes from the Sanskrit “Sat” (Being), “Sat-ya” (Truth or Essence) and “graha” (grasping or holding firmly). So for Gandhi, we are trying to “hold firmly to God’s Truth” (my translation). That’s challenging! Worth a lifetime of trial. Try being truly nonviolent, holding firmly to God’s Truth, in thought, word and deed.

There was another moment in that same church when I saw a demonstration of the truth that impacted me, and I believe it impacted the rest of the congregation as well.

Our church regularly collected gently used clothing as a mission project. My father decided we should bless the collected clothing and have a ritual of dedication. To someone’s embarrassment, he pulled out of the bags torn and dirty clothing that should have been tossed out or used for rags. He simply asked, “should we bless and send these?” Then he proceeded with the ritual and left the torn and dirty clothing on the altar.

The third memorable example of the truth my father gifted me was shortly before his death. He had not been well and it was clear to all of us his days were numbered. Family members thought someone should speak with him about his approaching death, and as a newly minted clergy, their eyes turned to me. Reluctantly, and with some fear and trembling, I agreed.

I went in his room where he lay resting in bed and after a few moments of conversation said, “It seems as if you are at peace with whatever happens. That you are OK should you get better and OK if you don’t.” We sat in silence for a few moments before he said: “It’s not important what you have or what you do, what’s important is who you are. If that’s what you believe, you can die anytime. What do you think?” 

What do I think? I think truth is elusive and the getting and doing clouds our minds and hearts. Attending a recent auction, I was overwhelmed by the stuff for sale. The auction went on for hours. There were so many things in their original packages; never used. I purchased some books; one thing I certainly didn’t need, “but they were cheap!” I shouldn’t have been there in the first place as I had “things to do” at home; like tend the tomatoes and prepare for class. Getting and doing, big time!

For me, the Truth is, we are part of a larger scheme of Being and we have our part to play. There will be plenty of distractions. There will be fits and starts, roadblocks and detours. But hopefully, even in a few last days, we can recognize and Be the essence that we are.

Carl Kline

No comments: