Embracing the Mystery

angel-shepherds1My grandfather was a mysterious person.  He was a high priest in the Mormon church and my grandmother always thought I would take over his post in what they call the Quorum of the Apostles.  I apparently reminded her of him and said that she knew I had a call.  I never knew my dad’s dad, but there were always stories about him that I had to confirm with my grandma.  One account was how, when he was 18 years old, he climbed a tree to retrieve a kite for some kids when he touched an electrical wire and was shot out of the tree.  According to the doctors, he was clinically dead from the time he was electrocuted to the time he hit the ground.  The force of the impact from falling to the ground started his heart beating again, but he was still unconscious and would have been brain dead had it not suddenly started raining which woke him up.

There were other stories about amazing feats of strength and the ways in which he helped people.  The most baffling story, though, is the one that allowed my sister to still be here today.  My dad was just over 20, when he took his four year-old daughter, Tanya, to the ER with what turned out to be spinal meningitis.  This was almost 50 years ago, so the prognosis was not good and the doctor said as much.  He told my dad that she would die.  When my grandfather arrived, he asked my dad what was going on and my dad told him that the doctor had said that she wouldn’t make it.  My grandfather got angry at the doctor and asked him why he was telling my dad that his daughter was going to die.  The doctor replied that it was his duty to inform him of what was medically factual.  Grandpa then went into Tanya’s room, laid hands on her, and prayed for her healing.  She woke up shortly after and said she was hungry.  She was discharged the next morning.

Hearing a story like this makes us suspicious, uneasy, and joyful all at the same time.  After all, such healing doesn’t occur – especially not at the hands of a Mormon.  It’s ok.  We can admit it.  There is an inner battle within us over mystery where one half embraces it and relishes it and the other half would rather not deal with it.  A devout Mormon bringing his granddaughter back from the brink of death.  A devout Jew persecuting and contributing to the death of Christians suddenly has a mystical experience that leads him to be the largest proponent of The Way.  Which is harder to wrap our heads around?  Which is more uncomfortable?

Such experiences as these just go to show that God can be manifest in the most unexpected places.  Because God is spirit, God has to use something or someone that is tangible and recognizable to us.  It intrigues me that every time Jesus appears to the disciples after the resurrection in the John passages, he is unrecognizable.  The text doesn’t say that he intentionally disguised himself and then returned to his original form so that they would know who he was.  Maybe he stayed in whatever form he appeared in, but they recognized him not because of his face, but because of his actions.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”  “When I was hungry, you gave me food.”  “When I thirsted, you gave me drink.”  “What you do for the least of these you do to me.”  Do we see a pattern here?  Is it any wonder that Jesus is always recognized when he is offering food or help?  Every time the disciples recognize Jesus, he is breaking bread and offering it to them.  We are most aware of God’s presence when we are serving.  The beginning of this passage says, “and he showed himself in this way.”  The mystical presence of Jesus is made real when an act of hospitality is done.  John is the most theological of the gospel writers so look at this reference to the presence of God in the Garden of Eden: “When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked”.

God is present in both the miraculous and the mundane.  The healing touch of a Mormon man, the miraculous conversion of a hateful persecutor, the simple act of serving someone in need.  The veil between the sacred and the simple is more transparent than we could ever imagine and the ability of God to work in the most ordinary of circumstances creates thin places wherever we go.

One Response to “Embracing the Mystery”

  1. John Lovestrand Says:

    My paternal grandfather (“Pa Emerson”) taught Sunday school in his retirement years in a small town (Lutheran church) community along the Red River border between North Dakota and Minnesota. He was proud of his brother Duane, who I recall was a co-founder of Bethany Church in Minnesota. If memory serves, Duane and his family served as missionaries in countries like the Philipines. I remember Pa being proud of that. Pa and my Grandma Mini and their relatives went to Lutheran church every Sunday, and for the 2 years I lived with them (my first 2 years of high school) I too went to church every Sunday — which was new to me. I don’t think I wanted to attend then, but looking back on it, I recall feeling that it was accessible, authentic, tangible. Small church; everybody packed in tight and close. All the men in suits. (I used to polish my Pa’s shoes Sunday mornings, and I remember enjoying that / taking pride in him entrusting me to do that well for him.) Women in dresses. We youngsters well groomed too. The preachers (ministers) seemed real to me, human, earthy. When my grandparents passed away, each time I returned for their funerals. At my Grandma Minnie’s service, I remember the ministers being a husband and wife co-pastor team, and the wife being the lead minister. I liked that. I don’t recall them being fire n’ brimstone — or even inspirational — but I vaguely recall feeling good about that Lutheran church and what I perceived to be its healthy approach to permitting their people of the cloth to also lead normal, familial, human lives. I owe an immeasurable debt of gratitude to my Pa Emerson & Grandma Minnie, both of whom personified the every day “there are no small miracles” feat of providing my younger brother and me with a stable and loving and supportive family life at a vulnerable developmental stage. So, true that which you observe above regarding the simple healing that comes with paternal love and affection, assisted by a supportive Norwegian community and a down-to-earth Lutheran church.

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