the penultimate WORD
Series 2006 -
The Irvine Tartan • My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican
Praising God is usually something qualitatively very different from condemning someone.
M. Scott Peck, Denial of the Soul.
“I’m retired now,” he said as he took another bite of his chocolate glaze. “Have been for over ten years.”
“Come here often?” I enquired as I began to roll up the rim of my coffee cup.
“Since my wife died,” he replied. “I lost her six years ago. Gives me something to do.” He took a mouthful of coffee and went on, “You lose your wife too?” he asked.
“You could say that, in a manner of speaking,” I replied.
“I plowed snow after I retired, but gave that up last year,” he said. “Winter this year was bad for business. Before I retired I was in bread delivery,” he went on. He paused to take another drink from his cup. “What do you do?” he asked.
“You could say that I’m in Bread delivery too, in a manner of speaking,” I answered.
“I worked for Karnes Bakery and before them I delivered bread for Eastern Bakery,” he commented. “Long hours… used to get up at two o’clock to start my deliveries in the City. I’d fill my truck with fresh bread and start my rounds.” Some silence followed and then he asked, “Who did you deliver bread for?”
“I’m an Anglican priest,” I said. “My deliveries have to deal with the Bread of Life.”
Surprisingly he continued with our conversation. He understood my comment.
“I have a brother who was a Baptist Minister. Gave it up though. He was allergic to flowers. Just too many flowers. Weddings. Funerals. They all have flowers.” And then he returned to the subject of bread. “I always made sure I was providing fresh bread. That’s what folks want,” he went on, “fresh bread.”
“Nobody wants stale bread,” I observed.
“That’s right! I’d change the bread every day so customers could depend on getting fresh bread when they wanted it. Didn’t demand much… just keep the shelves stocked fresh. That’s how I built up my customers. Then I needed to stock more fresh bread.”
“Not much of a demand for bread that has lost its flavour. I expect you did well.”
“I certainly did. It provided a good living for my family and me. I had the best route and I built it on fresh bread. But since I lost my wife I don’t seem to have the interest. Here, let me show you her picture.” A laminated portrait of the couple was lovingly taken from his wallet and he passed the picture to me.
“You were close by the way you talk about her.”
“I worshiped the ground she walked on and at the end she was very sick.” A thoughtful pause to look again at the photo before he placed it back in his wallet. “I want to see her again.”
For all of the exchange, I was struck at the absence of condemnation in my friend’s tone and in his speech. There appeared to be no recrimination against God for a dreadfully painful death. In the midst of thoughtlessness and carelessness on the part of friends there was no evidence of rancour. What disappointment there was seemed to be mitigated by his loving loneliness as he consumed a donut inferior to what he had delivered so steadfastly and for so long.
His witness caused me reflect on my pattern of delivery of the Bread of Life and to ask how conscious I was of the freshness of this heavenly Manna as I brought the Sacrament to the bed side of hospital or home, the communion rail of the community of Faith or the adult studies that I continue to lead in homes.
The beguiling temptation to provide a diet of condemnation instead of fresh Bread is overwhelming in unsettling times such as the one in which we find ourselves today. My friend was providing me with a radical paradigm change and I was beginning to see myself as a priest in the role of a delivery agent of Grace.
I hadn’t consciously seen myself that way before. I preside at the altar as often as I have opportunity but I hadn’t focused on that which all people seek so earnestly: the staff of life, the Bread of Life without which Jesus reminds us in John’s gospel, we will surely die.
My delivery of fresh Bread became my Easter epiphany! This, certainly, was praising God in the servant ministry Jesus invites us to share as his followers.
As I took my leave from my new acquaintance, I glanced to see that my cup had provided me with an opportunity to play again. But more than that, empty though it appeared to the casual on-looker, my cup had been filled! This pedestrian and profane extension of Sunday’s altar had two meet briefly, eat and drink. This encounter with God, the Bread of Life, had been something qualitatively very different from condemning someone. Anyone.
Copyright © 2006 James T. Irvine