Not too long ago I received a call from our parish administrator who also happens to be a good friend and neighbor. Hearing my voice on the phone seemed to surprise her.
“Van, how are you doing?” I said “Fine, thank you…So, how are you?” We continued our talk with strange silences. She asked, “Has anything happened this morning?” Answering I said, “No, was something supposed to have happened?”
“Yes, I just heard you had died…”
After looking around, asking my wife, and pinching myself, I said. “No, I don’t think so.” I must not have sounded convincing, because she asked more questions.
Throughout the day people I knew had heard the same. I had to argue face to face that in fact I was not dead. We found out how the information became confused, but that didn’t take away the strangeness of the feeling it gave me.
Having people think you are dead is an interesting experience. Among other things, it is a timely reminder that some day you will die. And, of course, one always wonders, “How the world can possibly get on without me?” But, trust me, I know it will!
As we begin this new year it may be a helpful spiritual exercise to confront the brevity and frailty of life — particularly our own. There may be some important things we would like to say and do before we die. If so, we had better get on with it, for we are not here to stay. Contrary to the common illusion that the world cannot possibly get on without us, we will be leaving, perhaps sooner than we think.
This year’s beginning is a good time to ask ourselves about our lives, who we are, who we present ourselves to be — and how others perceive us. When people see us walking towards them is it a look of “Oh! Joy!” we see in their faces, or “Oh know! (*sigh*).” The good news is that alive we still have time to change and to fulfill more of the destiny we long to accomplish. To be the people we are meant to be. We might begin with how we understand our circumstances and how we define them, rather than allowing them to define us…
One of the great hymns of the church was written by the Rev. Martin Rinkart. It was in the 17th Century, during the horrible “Thirty Years War” which seemed to last forever. He was a Lutheran pastor serving a small church in a little town that had become a haven for thousands of refugees fleeing the war.
Famine and disease always come with refugees, and it was no different in Martin Rinkart’s little town. In one year, Pastor Rinkart buried 4,000 people who died of the pestilence and famine. Many of those he buried were friends and family members. Surrounded by poverty, need and want on every hand, hounded by death and destruction and lacking in everything save his faith, Martin Rinkart would write this great and graceful hymn:
“Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices, who wondrous things hath done, in whom this world rejoices; who from our mother’s arms has blessed us on our way with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.”
The Rev. Walter Van Zandt Windsor is rector at Trinity Episcopal Church.
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