Article for June 5, 2011

The breeze that blew across the lake that evening was busy lifting and sculpting tiny waves like the small peaks that a spatula forms on top of a piece of homemade meringue pie.  Row, after undulating row, created gentle slapping sounds as they dashed themselves against the mossy concrete puzzle pieces that wrapped the shoreline.


Sitting on the shady edge of the shore in one of those old rusty metal chairs that one commonly found in rural backyards of the 50’s, 60’s, and ’70’s, I rocked to the rhythms of those slapping, meringue-like waves…waves that washed away words…thoughts…images….  An un-bated, empty hook dangled beneath a red Styrofoam bobber, that in turn, hung below the cane pole found in the shed.  You see, boys don’t meditate;  boys fish.  The length of varnished bamboo that dangled from my hands, was not so much a fishing pole, as a face-saving alibi for someone who might stumble upon my hiding place and disturb this soul-saving, monastic moment.


But I had not originally come intending to meditate any more than I had come to fish.  I had stolen away to this solitary place with no other plan than to momentarily escape.  The chair was placed strategically behind the metal shed that smelled vaguely of fish bate, motor oil, and urine.  In that position, I could be seen, neither from the house’s picture window, nor from the patio where the latest battle from the ongoing domestic war was being waged.


By eleven years of age, I had sat for probably ninety to one hundred haircuts at the same barber-shop.  It looked simple enough.  Gather up a bunch of hair between your fingers.  Snip it.  Repeat….  “How hard can that be?”  I reassured myself, as I obeyed the command to, “Take a seat.”


“How hard can this be?”  was the internal mantra my father repeated as he took up the scissors normally utilized for cutting paper, chicken parts, twine, or anything else that required a rough chop in the kitchen.  Emboldened by a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer buzz, and a conviction that his wife was wasting his hard-earned money, my dad resolved to teach her a lesson, and take up a new hobby in the process.  “Boys, come here, your old man’s gonna cut your hair.”


The makeshift barber’s chair was precariously perched, like everything else in my family, on the edge of a loyalty conflict between my mom and dad.  “Don’t let him cut your hair!” my mother ordered.  “It’ll be okay mom.”  I replied.


The view from our redwood deck, that would momentarily serve as a barbershop, stitched together the mowed lawn of our own property with those of our two contiguous neighbors.  The visual effect amounted to a several acre paddock for the eyes.  A 7:00 p.m. summertime, indigo sky played over the top of imprecise splotches of green created by fragrant stands of locust, maple, and oaks.  Their leaves gently oscillated in the eighty-degree breeze like Miss Illinois’ hands waving from the back of a State Fair parade convertible.  Beyond the graceful, genial trees, stretched the lake, which took on the shifting moods of the evening sky.


Tonight, just like other nights, it seemed that the peace was there…unmistakably there…just beyond my family’s property…out there in the trees, or maybe the lake.  It flitted around…like a rare butterfly, just beyond the reach of my family’s arms, or the grasp of our hands.


But back here, in the “not over there,” the haircut was commencing.  No barber’s mirror was necessary.  After many snips, mom looked at me as if some hideous species of stinging insect had landed on my head…like maybe my failure to listen to her had somehow transformed me into a hideous species.  Once again, she ordered me to step away, while my dad ordered me to sit.  Eventually, the haircut gave way to fighting.  In the confusion, I slipped away.   I steered a steady path in the direction of the beckoning lake.  More than a football field, and a large hill away, the waves performed their usual cleansing work…washing away the angry words, the dismayed looks, even the stubborn internal pain.


This Sunday’s Feast of Jesus’ Ascension celebrated nothing short of the inauguration of a new era in human history.  Ever since the day that Jesus’ body was taken up, we Christians have occupied a piece of geography best described as the “Not Quite Over There Yet.”  In a sense, we are the original “Tweeners.”  We are the people who live in the in between times…between the Ascension, when Christ returned to heaven, and the Parousia–when everything will find its completion in Christ.  Until the Parousia, we all share something in common with the eleven-year-old version of me.  We can see the peace of the Kingdom of God just over the horizon, but we live over here in a state of “not-quite-over-there-ness.”  Our human arms are not long enough to reach the fullness of peace, our human hands are not strong enough to fully sculpt it.  Moved by the Spirit, we are called to produce the fruits of justice, love, and mercy, understanding that any moment, our achievements can be undermined or cut short by death, the limitations of our own humanity, or the unredeemed, broken humanity of another.


Being a Tweener, living in a peace that has already been won, but not realized in its fullness, is not easy.  Where do you go to wash off the smudge and smell when the limitations of this world are too much with you?   Do you have a counselor or coach that you visit from time-to-time?  Do you participate in any form of Christian meditation as a way to wash away harmful words, thoughts or images?  Do you take a summer retreat?  Do you soak in the word of God through scripture readings, or sacred spiritual writings?  Do you find the living water in the sacred rituals of our sacraments?  In your life, where do you consistently find the Living Water?


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