Monday, October 15, 2012
Doing This Together
Just last weekend, I read Henri Nouwen's book, In the Name of Jesus. In it he writes of going to the Center for Human Development in Washington, D.C. to speak to a group of priests and ministers about Christian leadership in the then approaching 21st Century. Being aware that Jesus did not send out His disciples alone to preach the word, the Daybreak community, a home for mentally handicapped people and in which Nouwen was now a priest, decided to send Bill Van Buren along.
Nouwen wrote, "Of all the handicapped people in the house, he [Bill] was the most able to express himself with words and gestures. From the beginning of our friendship, he had shown a real interest in my work as a priest and had offered to help me during services." So when he was invited to join Nouwen, he accepted it as an invitation to join him in ministry. In fact, the words he said over and over again on the plane were, "We are doing this together, aren't we, Henri?" And each time Nouwen would answer, "Yes, Bill. We are doing this together."
In the epilogue of the book, Nouwen explains what happened during the speech to this prominent group of listeners. He tells of Bill leaving his seat and coming up on stage with him and planting himself right behind Nouwen. Each time Nouwen finished reading a page, Bill took it and put it upside down on a small table near by. Every now and then, Bill would blurt out, "I have heard that before!" He wanted everyone listening to know that he knew Henri very well and was familiar with his ideas, reminding Nouwen it wasn't as "new" an idea as he would like for his listeners to think.
When Nouwen related the most often asked question he gets from the residents of Daybreak, "Are you home tonight"? Bill interjected, "That's right, that is what John Smeltzer always asks." He wanted people to know about his friend John. Nouwen wrote, "It was as if he drew the audience toward us, inviting them into the intimacy of our common life."
To top off the evening, when Nouwen had finished his speech and was getting an ovation, Bill whispered, "Henri, can I say something now?" Truly not knowing what might come out of Bill's mouth, Henri agreed and called everyone to order. "Bill took the microphone and said with all the difficulties he has in speaking, 'Last time, when Henri went to Boston, he took John Smeltzer with him. This time he wanted me to come with him to Washington, and I am very glad to be here with you. Thank you very much.' That was it," Nouwen wrote, "and everyone stood up and gave him warm applause."
No doubt a lengthy and unusual introduction to this particular blog entry, but allow me to use it to segue to an incident that happened at the GA National Fair last week. My cousin Lynn, her older sister and her 96 year old mother came from Jacksonville, FL to the fair. On Thursday afternoon, I joined them and my parents for a few hours of fun. One of the stops was to listen to Leon Jacobs, Jr. Lynn, who has Down Syndrome, LOVES music, especially "rock and roll." And NO one enjoyed the hour more than she.
Leon ended the afternoon show with Chubby Checker's The Twist. As soon as he hit the first chords, Lynn jumped up right where she was and began to dance.
I snapped a quick shot and then knew what I needed (and wanted) to do. We were to "do it together." And, Lord have mercy, did we ever! We twisted until the cows came home.
When the song ended, Lynn threw her arms around my neck and said over and over again, "That was so much fun! That was so much fun! That was so much fun!" Indeed, it was, Lynn. Because we did it together.
Jesus positions Himself where 2 or 3 are gathered together. And on this warm, October afternoon, a little piece of land at the GA National Fair became holy for me.
I might not remember a lot about this year's fair, but one thing's for sure. I'll remember dancing -- because we did it together.
Just an ordinary moment...