Friday, September 30, 2016

The Ladder

"I am going to send an angel in front of you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared." Exodus 23:20

Earlier this week, my mother and I teetered precariously on ladders, stretching and stapling wire mesh to screen in the large front porch of her house. The siding had just been replaced and painted, a new metal roof installed, the windows re-glazed, and now we were tackling the porch. We spent all day in the heat and humidity of central Florida, swatting mosquitoes, with our staple-guns, hammers, and X-ACTO knives in hand, trying not to get our feet tangled in electrical cords and the front yard's tortuous vines. It had been a long time since my mother and I had done a project together, and we discovered to our surprise that we actually worked quite well as a team. We had a delightful time despite the sweat and fatigue of the project, which didn't always go to plan. Getting the screen up perfectly taut without any ripples or gaps is challenging; it takes great patience and persistence. Sometimes we had to take a few steps back, unstaple the screen, and start over. After seven hours in the heat, it was a minor miracle that we were still speaking to each other. 

I came to Florida this week, not to staple and hammer, but to celebrate my sister's fortieth birthday and my niece's eleventh. When I think about the good relationships I have with my family now, I also remember those days growing up when they weren't so good: the misunderstandings, the quick tempers and tongues, the regret of things said or left unsaid. It took us a long and tumultuous journey to get to the good place we are now. It is not perfect, of course, but there are unexpected moments of grace that make me grateful and hopeful. That day on the ladder was one of them. Many families have similar stories. The good (or bad) relationships we have are fashioned by our choices and experiences, and yet I'd like to think that God has some hand in them. The Bible is full of stories of divine messengers (from the Greek, angeloi = "messengers") or angels communicating God's word and will to humans. I'm sure there were hasty moments when I did not heed God's advice to hold my tongue or to bear with patience a difficult conversation. There were undoubtedly urgings from God that I ignored in order to follow my own flawed judgment. I bear full responsibility for those failings, but I am grateful that God did not give up on me and continued to whisper in my ear and inhabit my dreams. And so does God with us all.

"Jacob's Dream" by William Blake, 1805.
The Church celebrates the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels this week, which emphasizes God's desire to speak and be present with us in our daily lives. In joy, pain, confusion. All of it. Whether the traditional image of gossamer-winged messengers resonates with you or not, the idea that God seeks to encourage us to walk in paths that lead to abundant life can serve as a source of comfort and strength. The decisions are ours to make, but God offers us a vision of what could be and guidance to get there. In the famous passage from Genesis 28, God speaks to Jacob in a dream and presents a vision of a ladder to heaven on which angels are ascending and descending. Jacob's ladder was probably grander than the aluminum one on which I worked and sweated this week, but both have been symbols to me of deep relationship. I have always imagined it as a metaphor for the back-and-forth communication between God and creation. It is an analogy of our ongoing relationship with a Trinitarian God that seeks us out in the unfolding of creation, the bread and wine and sacramental life of the Son, and the sanctifying guidance of the Holy Spirit. And as a people that participates in God's activity, we are often messengers of God to each other, as well. When we offer words of comfort, assistance in time of need, or nourishment when we are running on empty, we bear God's message of new life. Sometimes, God leads us forward through each other to the place God has prepared for us. Sometimes, it takes a person or a family quite a while to get there. When we sing the classic hymn for St. Michael and All Angels, "Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones," we should not only command the ranks of angels to sing God's praise, but challenge each other to be God's messengers in the world.

The Lord is glorified in his holy ones; O, come, let us adore him.

Abundant blessings,
Fr. Ethan+

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