I’m just another face in the pews each Sunday morning. I regularly tune into the evening news going so far as to also watch the News Hour on PBS. I need not reprise here the scenarios we are all too familiar with. But perhaps I can share an insight that puts some of the turmoil in greater perspective for me.
Year after year, week after week I have been admonished to “love my neighbor as myself.” And year after year, week after week this commandment has been expanded, expounded, and explored in countless contexts. I have little doubt that there be few who have never heard it. And then I watch the news, and lo! It’s as if it has rarely ever been heard!
Sometimes we are privileged to experience rare moments of insight; epiphanies, if you will. Shortly after The Summer of Love in the late 60s, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel released the haunting, Bridge over Troubled Water, which still stirs my soul. But it wasn’t until recently, when I chanced to read the story of Christopher Thomas Knight that the essence of the message of that song struck me.
Knight was a man who voluntarily lived outdoors continuously in the Northern Maine woods for 27 years without any human contact. His tale became known after he was finally captured pilfering a small cache of food from the Pine Tree Camp dining hall for his coming winter sustenance. As we read, he was extremely reluctant to discuss details of his astounding life story with anyone, including the journalist who took it upon himself to learn why this man endured such a hermitacy. I found myself paused; a man had elected to remain beyond all human contact in a twenty foot square living room behind a wall of granite boulders over a quarter of his life!
Astounding?! Well, maybe not quite so astounding when I began to reflect that I, too, tend to live behind walls that I put up, you know; like the walls and defenses I throw up around my heart supposedly to safeguard it. Even as Knight was forced to reenter society, he refused to venture very far from his “walls” and this shook the author’s overwhelming desire to understand this man.
After two years, toward the end of this story the author learns that Knight wants to walk with The Lady of the Woods, his image of death. This sends the author flying back from his home in Montana to deter such a choice. In the last words the author hears from Knight, he’s told of the desperation Knight is living with when Knight concludes with the ominous words, “Something’s got to give or something’s going to break.” At this point all of Knight’s Stoicism and dense walls seem to collapse momentarily as tears began sliding down his cheeks. The author becomes overcome as well and there stand two grown men weeping and sobbing. And then it sounds, my epiphany: tears! The sign of our deepest vulnerability.
Tears are the evidence of our most profound caring. My tears are your proof that I have become aware of the depth of your suffering. And now the message latent in the tune of Simon and Garfunkel: “Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down…” begins its song to me. Our unchecked tears are those troubled waters separating us. It is now possible to see that a bridge over troubled water is necessary. And as we are moved to begin creating those bridges it becomes possible for two hearts to be joined as one. Then, and only then, does the reconciliation prayed for, the re (meaning ‘again’) + conciliare (meaning ‘to unite’), become truly real.
So pastors and preachers, as you fashion your messages, your stories, your sermons for us sitting in the pews, bring us to those tears that open the way for us all to be healed of our hatreds and divisions.
A time-worn disciple,