I received an e-mail this morning from my sister. She was at a prayer meeting at her church, and learned about two friends who just discovered that one of their two children, still a very young child, has a rare brain cancer and will likely die within the year. In the course of their prayer, some people slid into spontaneous song, and as they did, this small child who was being prayed over joined in with the ABC’s. It was, my sister wrote, “the sweetest, most hearty version of the ABC’s I’ve ever heard, followed by the Itsy Bitsy Spider & Be Still My Soul.” I imagine God’s heart swelled. This is the love he compels us toward. Not a love the pushes others to bended knee and demands Latin incantations no one understands; not this, but love that sings a soulful ABC’s, followed by the Itsy Bitsy spider.
It reminded me of David Duncan’s marvelous book “The Brother’s K,” and his memorable anti heroine Vera Klinger. She is a devoted 7th Day Adventist, with a harelip and a lisp, who prays sincere, vulnerable prayers. She is guileless and sincere in the way many ostracized children are. She is the soul of spiritual ABCs.
I love the picture of community projected by this image. A small group of dissimilar people praying over a great heartbreak in an act of faith that rebukes the cynicism of our time, that says these gatherings are futile, these acts are foolish. Willing, in fact, to participate with whole hearts in the foolishness of a spiritual ABC. Mother Theresa, her own life a rebuke to the narcissism of our culture, made the simple statement that “What I do, you cannot do; but what you do, I cannot do. The needs are great, and none of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.” And what is greater than the moment of solidarity shared between people who cast off cycnism for tenderness.
On his blog, Bent and Tender, Winn Collier contemplates the biblical story of the Pharisees, trying to engage Jesus in condemning an adulterous woman for her errors. He writes “I find it curious that when the Pharisees asked Jesus if he was ready to grab a rock, John notes Jesus’ precise movement. Jesus, the story says, “bent down.” He did not answer. He did not theologize. He crouched low and doodled in the dirt.”
He doodled in the dirt. The God of the universe narrowed himself down into a skin suit, and joined us in our smallness, but not our pettiness. He saw the world from where we stood, but not as we saw it. I’m a mother, and am very often guilty of scolding my child for doodling in the dirt. I have a very difficult time seeing the world as she does. Of putting down the dishrag and picking up a puppet. Of ignoring the smudge of dirt for the smile below it. I wish I was more like a member of my sister’s community. Ready to forget the plan in order to sing a spiritual Itsy Bitsy spider. I know it’s what God wants from me. Be Still my Soul. Such a difficult task. Such an important goal.
P.S.: If you’d like to do one small thing with great love, you can donate here to bless the above mentioned family, for their last season with their daughter.