Maybe. Maybe Not.
LUKE 24:36b-48Frederick Buechner, Presbyterian minister and author, describes an intriguing incident. He wrote:
A year or so ago, a friend of mine died. One morning in his sixty-eighth year he simply didn't wake up. It was about as easy a way as he could possibly have done it, but it wasn't so easy for the people he left behind because it gave us no chance to start getting used to the idea, or to say goodbye. He died in March, and in May my wife and I were staying with his widow overnight when I had a short dream about him. I dreamed he was standing there in the dark guest room where we were asleep, looking very much like himself in the navy blue jersey and white slacks he often wore. I told him how much we had missed him and how glad I was to see him again. He acknowledged that somehow. Then I said, "Are you really there, Dudley?" I meant was he there in fact, in truth, or was I merely dreaming he was. His answer was that he was really there. "Can you prove it?" I asked him. "Of course," he said. Then he plucked a strand of wool out of his jersey and tossed it to me. I caught it between my thumb and forefinger, and the feel of it was so palpably real that it woke me up. That's all there was to it. I told the dream at breakfast the next morning, and I'd hardly finished when my wife spoke. She said that she had seen the strand on the carpet as she was getting dressed. She was sure it hadn't been there the night before. I rushed upstairs to see for myself, and there it was--a little tangle of navy blue wool.
Thus writer Frederick Buechner describes a moment, a wistful, intrusive moment of transcendence. Now, what was it? Coincidence? Something he ate? Hysteria induced by reaction to grief? Maybe. Maybe not.
Maybe it is possible, plausible, for a loved one, a friend, to invade our existence in his/her spiritual body. The odds against such occurrences have to be astronomical. And yet, if we had the courage to talk about them, I expect we would find they are not that uncommon. Maybe it is true that by God's grace the dead are given back their lives. Maybe there is a bodily resurrection. Or, maybe these moments are coincidence. A fluke. A quirk. Maybe. Maybe not.
Maybe these incidents are playful intrusions into our common-sensical patterns of thought. Maybe a blue thread on the carpet, a face, or a voice from the past, are sent by heaven to disrupt us. A peek behind the curtain of exterior reality. A whisper of providence. A hint of transcendence. Maybe there is more to death than mere death. Maybe there is more to your past and present than a trip to Fresno.
Maybe there is more to life than the ordinary. Maybe the mind is larger than our immediate environment. Maybe we are just beginning to discover the resources and uncanny powers we all have.
Maybe God does intrude into our lives. Maybe God really does meet us, engage us, talk to us. On God's terms, not ours. Maybe God flirts, loves to tease us toward a reality that we routinely walk by without a look, without a twitch of curiosity. Maybe God loves you so much, he continually knocks at your door, peeps in your window, trying to get your attention, trying to get you to live by more than what you can hold, touch, and chew.
Bonnee Hoy was a gifted composer who heard music all around her. She especially enjoyed standing at her bedroom window, listening intently to the birds singing, marveling at the beautiful songs the mockingbird in particular sang. Bonnee, musician that she was, began to sing back to the mockingbird. She whistled the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. With amazing quickness the mockingbird learned these four notes and sang them back to Bonnee. In perfect pitch, Bonnee marveled. Then, after a few nights, the bird disappeared. Years later, when Bonnee was dying, toward the end of her life, when she was so terribly sick, outside her window, she heard a mockingbird singing the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth.
Was it Bonnee's imagination? Was it wishful thinking? Was it a delusion from her pain medicine? Maybe. Maybe not.
Maybe God intrudes, barges into our lives in mysterious, unnerving, surprising, beautiful ways. Maybe God sends birds to sing to you, flowers to cheer you, friends to comfort you, challenges to make you grow and stretch. Maybe we don't see God much because we've lost the capacity to look, we've lost the capacity to listen. Maybe we're like too many of today's youth who have ruined their hearing listening to hard metal with the volume turned all the way up, so now they can't hear all the notes, they can't hear the entire range, they can't hear rich harmony nor whispers.
Sometimes, something is there, but we can't hear it, we can't see it. Our eyes are dulled, our vision is unformed, uninstructed, undisciplined to look with appropriate curiosity and intelligence. God tries to break through. God loves you. Jesus wants to be in relationship with you. The Holy Spirit wants to fill you with joy, assurance, and peace. But, we doubt. We resist. We shut our eyes, put our hands over our ears, fill our minds with everyday triviality, refuse to pray, afraid to listen.
Faith shrivels, like grass without water, like plants without nourishment. Faith shrivels and dies without surprise and wonder. Faith that is unprepared to be shocked and surprised dies; shrivels and dies from boredom, routine, lethargy, and apathy. As a marriage shrivels without romance, without an occasional "date", a bouquet of flowers, a hug and an "I love you", so faith shrivels without moments of transcendence.
It was Easter Sunday evening. The disciples of Jesus were huddled together in a room, despondent and anxious over what had happened the last three days in Jerusalem. Jesus was dead. They had seen him die. They hadn't been courageous enough to stand at the foot of the cross, in full view of the Roman soldiers, but they had watched from a distance. "I wasn't that close to the cross, actually, but from where I was standing, toward the back, I could see that he was dead. Finished."
"It was a good campaign while it lasted, but we didn't get him elected Messiah." He is dead. It's over. Finished.
Maybe. Maybe not.
Suddenly they became aware of a stranger standing among them. The strange intruder said, "Shalom." But they felt anything but shalom, anything but peace and contentment. They were startled and terrified. Most of them thought it was a ghost. They stubbornly refused to believe. They had been in classic denial. Jesus had told them and told them he would be caught and executed. He told them he would have to suffer and die. But, they refused to understand. They denied it to him, and to themselves. And, they were unable to go with him, unable to stand with him, unable to help him bear his cross. Now they were terrified by a ghost.
The intruder invited them to touch his hands and feet. He was no ghost. The stranger asked them for something to eat. Before their wondering eyes, he ate a fish. Then he talked to them from the Bible. He explained, interpreted Scriptural passages. And they became witnesses. They saw, they touched, they believed. Jesus had come back to them, had given them what they needed in order to believe. Jesus had come to see them, to give them courage. Jesus had come to again ask them to follow him, again ask them to be his witnesses, to do his work, to love his people, to preach and teach and care for suffering humanity.
But, the majority of those polled said his appearance had to be some kind of a coincidence, something in the wine maybe. Hysteria induced by reaction to grief. Post traumatic stress syndrome.
Maybe. Maybe not.
© 1994 Douglas I. Norris