Nancy and I spent three hours today at a funeral. I had only seen Mrs. Smith (her real name) once, and we hadn’t talked at all. If you are a regular reader here, however, you know that I did pray for her and put a spot of oil on her forehead.
She died a couple days after that, which really was no surprise. After 92 years and 9 children and innumerable grands and great-grands and great-great-grands (one of whom sat on my lap for part of the service), she had built a great cathedral of praise and it was time for her to stop all the working and just get to the praising part.
I cried during the service, which really was no surprise. What was a nice surprise was the realization that I was having almost exactly the same feeling of wonder, of awe, of being in the presence of something more than me as I had almost exactly a week before.
You may remember that last Saturday at about 1:00 pm, I was at the Cathedral of Saint Patrick in NYC. At that time, I walked in and was in awe. And in tears.
So think for a bit with me. It is 660 miles between True Love Baptist Church and Saint Patrick’s. It is much further in worship styles, in apparent theology, in average amount of melanin, in square footage, in almost every dimension you can identify. Stained glass to no windows, low ceiling to high church… forget it. I could keep making these cutsy verbal twists for hours. And get no where.
What is so compelling is that I, having little in common with either place, was overwhelmingly aware of being in the presence of holiness, of being in the presence of lives poured into God.
Mrs. Smith built a family. She was the kind of grandmother who you loved and feared and loved again. Family members told stories of her discipline (when they decided to get mouthy or stay in bed) and her prayer (when there was no food on the table) and her persistence belief that God was working. Three grandsons and a great gave us marvelous offering of gospel-tinged jazz, playing a couple of her favorite hymns. And then, in true jazz style, they embraced after they played, knowing that it had never been like that before, was only that way because it was for her.
And the preaching. Powerful, clear, confrontive. “You say she taught you to pray. But do you pray?” “You say she showed you Jesus. But do you know Him?”
Nancy and I sat near the back, just absorbing. It was, for us, completely outside our usual spiritual family, but we were completely at home.
Saint Patrick’s. True Love. Mrs. Smith.
Three different ways of saying the same thing: God grabs hearts and does amazing work.