I can still hear the soft southern winds in the live oak trees, Don Williams used to sing. I too as I’ve just returned from walking the old roads where I was raised up as they say. Though, growing up, I was only there in the summers, it was home. Still is. That’s for sure.
There, outside my immediate family, no one knows me as Reverend or has ever heard of the Tree of Life. No, there I am known as something much more integral, familial. That’s Mrs. Bishop’s granddaughter. You know, she’s Dorothy’s daughter. Nothing else needs to be said. And, truth be known, I’ve always felt quite content with it that way.
So, absolutely nothing could have prepared me for what happened within hours of my arrival on my beloved screen porch as I sat there with my two aunts basking in the night sounds of all those katydids.
“Someone’s comin’ up the drive,” my aunt said who now lives in my grandmother’s house. “Shoot!” I thought, not wanting my sweet respite interrupted. But, in they came, two of my aunt’s lifelong friends and pillars of our home town Methodist Church. The conversation was moving along quite familiar lines with talk about all the current church and community news when suddenly my other aunt said, “Well, you know Stephanie is a minister and she’s working on her doctorate.”
My heart seemed to skip a beat and then was held still as I sensed that familiar something that told me hold on for that which I could not have known was coming.
“Really? Are you a Methodist minister?”
“No. I’m an interfaith minister. I serve the Tree of Life Interfaith Temple in Amherst, New Hampshire.”
Silence. And, I waited for the usual, “What is an interfaith minister? Are you Christian?” But, instead, one of our visitors asked, “What are you studying in school?”
Feeling it best, at least initially, to stay on semi-familiar ground, I said, “Well, I’m interested in the teachings of Jesus translated through Aramaic, the language he spoke. I’ve studied the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic and have written a book so I would like to expand on that.”
More silence. And then, a look of curiosity. “Jesus was a Jew. Didn’t he speak Hebrew?”
“Yes, he did but his teachings in the Bible are believed to have been spoken in Aramaic. Hebrew and Aramaic do use the same script so, as a matter of fact, if you want to learn Aramaic they say you should learn Hebrew first.”
“Can you speak Hebrew?”
“A little. I am learning. It is a beautiful language. I first encountered it learning the 23rd Psalm.”
“Oh, I love the 23rd Psalm. Could you say a few words of it in Hebrew?”
“I could recite the full Psalm if you’d like.”
“We’d love that.”
And, so I did and afterwards there was just a sweet silence that hung in the air. And, then I heard, “Could you say the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic?”
And, again, afterwards there was that sweet silence.
Oh my, my Beloved. What did you just make happen here?
And then, though I was fully prepared to continue our conversation in whatever direction they might desire, to perhaps discuss interfaith ministry or my broader research interests, this time, they led the conversation back to the more familiar, “My goodness, what a good job that young man did painting your house. You know, I need to get some work done on my house.” And, soon after, they were gone.
The next morning my aunts and I went to church and sat in our special family pew. We rose and sang out in revival fervor, In the sweet by an by, we shall meet on that beautiful shore and Leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms. And, I cried.
Not sure why. Felt something like a window had been opened, gingerly, between my, usually, quite separate worlds. And, just for a moment, on that small screened porch deep in the country, they had breathed together. It gave me a kind of hope.
Then, after a week of fried green tomatoes, grits, collards, southern fried chicken, black eyed peas and more than a few helpings of my aunt’s special banana pudding, it was time to come home.
Home? Where is home?
And, my heart answered…It’s your family pew in a country church down south. It’s a Sparrow’s Nest on the second floor of an old building in a small town up north. It’s leaning on those everlasting arms. It’s being lost in love with Rumi. It’s being Mrs. Bishop’s granddaughter, Dorothy’s daughter. It’s being Rev. Stephanie.
And, maybe, it’s just loving folks right where they are, and offering what we can as the Beloved may invite, that makes us most recognize when we are Home. For, perhaps, in just those moments, we remember, in the sweet silence, just in Whom it is we “all” move, and breath and have our being. (Acts 17:28).
And, if we are still enough, perhaps we just might also be able to hear the Beloved whispering…whispering ever so softly in our ear…