Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Sort of Sacred Ground

I have a lot of friends of all sorts but there is one special category of friend that is just a bit more special than the others and that’s the folks I do youth work with. Sometimes we see each other only once or twice a year.  We work hard and long and wholeheartedly.  We share moments given us by the Holy Spirit of God.  We love youth with great joy, without hesitation or apology and to a degree that would surprise them.  

I’ve been doing this so long now that I’m now working under the directorship of people I knew when they were the youth.  I had been to the ordination of three of the clergy on staff at last weekend’s retreat.

One of the first people I met when I went to my first Synod Youth Workshop in 1991 was Jodi Haun.  I remember distinctly walking into a room full of strangers and she immediately walked up and gave me the warmest hug I had ever received. And I knew in that moment that I was dealing with a special kind of people. It was a whole new culture which has since become family for me in a way that my own family will never understand and the model I look to for the Kingdom of God

During any of these retreats, whether they be a weekend or a whole week, we work hard, we work long and we work as a well-oiled machine.  We trust each other.  We listen to each other.  And any decision is made for the physical safety and spiritual growth of the kids.

However, there invariably comes a time when all the stress just comes bubbling to the surface in a gigantic burst of laughter. And thank God for that—because sometimes it’s a toss-up between laughter or an axe murder.

I’ve now known Jodi for 23 years.  You might say we have grown young together.  Our hearts and minds have.  I’m afraid our bodies have not been given the same dispensation.  Jodi had just had her second knee replaced.  So, she was limping around last weekend.

Saturday night the retreat director needed someone to clean the new communion ware they had bought at Walmart.  So Leslie asked Jodi and I to help with that.  Maybe she thought this might be one thing that we wouldn’t get into trouble doing.  There wouldn't be much physical effort to washing the goblets, plate and pitcher while the others moved furniture to prepare for the evening’s worship service.

Leslie told us there was a restroom upstairs we could use:  It sounded like a brilliant idea:  a water source with some serenity and privacy.   No kids running in and out.  Since it was the weekend probably no one had even used the room since the last time it had been cleaned.  Basically, the room was about as clean a place as anything that was available to us. We were using the gym, for goodness sakes, you’re not going to find anyplace too clean.  And, actually, the bathroom was pristine as bathrooms go.

Once inside, I noticed immediately it was a smallish restroom. We would be tight on space. And then came the comment:  “I’m not sure I’ve ever washed the communion ware in a public restroom before.” And we started laughing.  And we laughed.  We laughed those great gasping spasms that billow from your stomach while tears run down your cheeks.  Yes, we laughed until our sides ached.

There are just so many times in youth work that you do the imaginative, off the wall thing that no one in a million years would plan but seems to be the perfect answer at the time and indeed ends up a brilliant move.

Whatever logic appeared within that bathroom seemed acceptable to Jodi and me.  We commenced to take the new glassware from the box and wash it.

But the room was small.  There was barely any counter space.  And that’s when it came to me that we could use the baby changing table.  It opened up to provide us with a nice little table at just the right height. When Leslie came to check on us she laughed with us for a while.


 The sight of the glasses there only intensified the laughter.  Then we had a hard time getting the price sticker off the plate until I dug out a small and crumpled envelope with a disposable lens wipe for my glasses that I keep in my purse.  It held just enough alcohol that took the sticker right off.  You do what you gotta do and you keep going.

Jodi was laughing so hard by this time that she was doubled over.  This changed her balance enough that her new knee started to hurt.  So she went into the handicapped stall to sit on the high toilet for a bit.  Apparently this was a technique she had used before because she said height allowed her to dangle her leg.  I finished up the washing and drying.  We laughed more about communion stories.  

 

 When you’ve been around the block as many times and Jodi and I have you’ve seen just about every comical mistake in the book when it comes to communion.  A theological tidbit here to my non-Presbyterian friends:  Our communion does not consider the elements to be literally the body of Christ.  It’s only a symbol. I'm not asking you to believe the same way I do but just accept this as my belief. It is merely ordinary bread and wine that becomes something more through prayer during communion.  Until that prayer it’s still just ordinary bread and grape juice.  And so are the plate and goblets and pitcher we were washing there in the bathroom sink on the second floor of the gym at Austin College.  Ordinary for the moment.  Soon to become sacred.  But not just yet. Does this work for you?  Can we relax now?

God sends us laughter to bless us.  To help us relax when things get tense or we get tired.  The laughter bubbles out and takes a lot of bad juju with it.  Laughter is cleansing. I keep a mental picture of Jesus and His disciples laughing around a table.    In my mind’s eye there is a half-eaten pizza on the table with cans of Coke and bags of chips littering the table.  The men  and women around the table are laughing at some joke and Jesus is laughing the hardest.

 Life does get funny sometimes.  If laughter blesses, then the goblet and platen that evening were even more special than ever. If laughter blesses us,  then Communion that evening was more blessed than usual.

After sharing a story or two with Jodi perched on the high toilet, dangling her leg and me drying up the communion ware, we were ready to take everything back downstairs.  Jodi’s final act was standing to leave-- and the toilet, right on cue, automatically flushed. 

We remembered with more gales of laughter where we were.  We were in a public restroom washing communion ware for a sacred meal.  And If you ever wondered if a public restroom in a college gym could be sacred ground, the answer is yes. Yes, it can.

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