written by Ron Beathard
There are times when I am standing on God’s shoulders or he is sitting on mine and I am unaware. These stories are worth retelling. Do not look for educated words, paragraph transition, and boring explanations. Look for God. Look for me.
Here at St. Andrew’s Episcopal we try to keep Edgar out-of-sight like a family’s crazy uncle. He is roly-poly, has a cherub face, and a smile that looks as if he had been born with it. I don’t think he gets much out of church. He doesn’t sing any hymns and doesn’t know when to sit, stand, or kneel. You always know when Edgar is a greeter. You hear laughter.
At the last church picnic half-a-dozen children were somersaulting down a hill. Edgar was right behind. At the bottom he gathered everyone together and told the Noah’s Ark story, acting all the parts; a lumbering elephant, an arm dangling like a trunk; he stretched his neck to be a giraffe; walked like a duck and crowed like a rooster. Soon the children were running around laughing and shouting and being their favorite animal.
There are times I wish I had a little Edgar in me, taking each of God’s moments and wringing the most from it.
Awhile back, I went hang-gliding in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I rose from the sandy beach into the air and if there had been rain on the horizon, I could have soared over the rainbow. Later in life, I went zip-lining down a hill near Brookville, Indiana. Some people laughed at me; what is Brookville after Mexico? I replied, it does not matter in life where you are; it is what you do, when you get there that matters.
One cold and blustery winter’s day Marty came to my house to build a picket face. A young man, he came alone and looked as if he had played football in high school. Marty dug the holes in frozen ground; large, tree roots pestered him from all sides, and poured concrete around the heavy posts. He nailed the pickets one-by-one, nail-by-nail in their places. He designed a gate uniquely built for its place.
I expressed my admiration and we exchanged small talk as strangers often do. At noon I went out for lunch and some items he needed from the hardware store.
By early evening Marty had completed the work he had come to do. It was quality work and I gave him sincere congratulations. After we exchanged good-bye, good luck farewells, Marty asked if he could bless me. I had no warning. There were no discussions of churches attended; he didn’t wear a crucifix, no honk-if-you-love-Jesus bumper sticker.
We removed our caps and Marty placed an arm on my right shoulder and blessed me. He asked Jesus to keep me safe and warm and healthy. He prayed all good things for me. Marty thanked Jesus for bringing me to him and a day’s worth of labor. I replied, head bowed, with an inadequate thank you. Should I have been kneeling? I should have been kneeling.
I make knots—thousands of them—as part of a church project. We make knots around the edges of two layers of soft fleece, just the size for a baby’s layette. Every now and then, I whisper the words: “Go well, young person.” Before I take the blankets to a women’s center for distribution, I take them to church and lay them on the pew with me. I send the blankets from God’s world to a newborn’s world and hear babies crying and see mothers smiling. Prayers are not always read from a book. Prayers are God at work.
I went to Cuzco, the capitol of the Incas, a few years ago, getting ready for a railway trip to Machu Picchu, the goal of my McAdventure.
I wandered the town built on such finely crafted stones that a piece of paper cannot be slipped between them. They have supported the city for centuries. I roamed the neighboring countryside and saw the iconic llama, and Incan baths and fountains. In town I walked by dusty cathedrals and Sears.
In the morning I was ushered into a van for a new beginning.
Below me a boulder-crowded stream sent its waters to the Amazon. Above me the mountains rose, straining, to reach heaven. I like to think they did.
The van paused at the base of the one-lane dirt road, no guard rails, to Machu Picchu, gathering strength and bravado for the climb. There are 17 hairpin curves up the road and at each curve, two nuns sitting across from me, made the sign of the cross. I know I was in their prayers.
After we were given the standard, cookbook tour of the ancient royal estate, I hurried back to the porch of the Lodge where I had reservations for the night. I wanted to take it all in. All of it. I heard sounds of stones being smoothed and sanded to a gloss; groans of men digging the terraces, hauling the heavy stones up the side of the mountain. I learned the songs of the condor. And from somewhere came the music of pipes and flutes. So this is what “Music of the Spheres” means. And I was in the center of it all. I always am, but don’t realize it.
On my first sky-diving adventure, taxiing down the runway in a Cessna 170, I prayed that a lightning storm would strike; I prayed harder that the engine would go clunk; and I prayed hardest: if this is the way I die God, welcome your scared, silly son.
My jumpmaster shouted, “Now.”
I turned over my shoulder and said, “What?”
I heard only the whispers of the toggle lines like a soft chorus of birdsong. But they were below me. King’s Island Amusement Park was a picture postcard. Forty-ton semi’s on the freeway were ants on military maneuvers. At five thousand feet realized I could conquer fears and doubts. God and grace had something to do with it.
A friend of mine from St. Andrew’s brought me a souvenir from a vacation: a pair of white work gloves (she knew gardening was a hobby) with the word PRAY stenciled on the back of one glove. I never used that glove for weeds and roses.
It lay on my gardening bench and every time I passed and saw that glove, I paused and prayed. I didn’t have a routine, prepared prayer. I did this. I alerted myself to the presence and wonders of God and his creation; it is not God’s in his Heaven and Ron is home. We are not separate. We are the singer and the song.
Postscript. I gave that PRAY glove to a friend. He has been clean and sober now for more than a year.
Ron Beathard is a retired writer/editor. He has worked in advertising and for university publications departments. His essays and devotions have been published in Forward Day by Day, St. Anthony Messenger, Anglican Digest, Monasteries of the Heart, and for a change of pace, Modern Drunkard. He is an Oblate of St. Benedict: St. Meinrad Archabbey, and is active on the committee promoting Dorothy Day’s petition for canonization.