The stories that really matter in our lives are mysteries. They defy easy understanding and a full, immediate grasp of their significance. We take them out from time to time, even years afterward, to see if they have become clearer, if they hold new meaning for us in the here and now.
Gene lived with his mother, Isabel. He was in his middle sixties when I knew him, which put Isabel in the miraculously well-preserved category. In the lake town where I was pastor at the time, the community was set up along a fault line: between the Chicago rich, living in their vacation or retirement homes and the Wisconsin modest, working in light industry and tourism related jobs. Gene and Isabel were locals, not just modest but creeping down toward outright poor. The rumor, spread through whispers from other church members, was that if you ate supper at their house, you’d be lucky if your portion wasn’t wearing a long, gray tail.
Gene and Isabel were poor and now Gene had cancer and was dying. That’s what Isabel told me. But she also told me that I wasn’t to mention it to Gene. The family didn’t want him disturbed by the news since there was nothing to be done about it anyway. It was with strict instructions to keep this terrible secret that I went into Gene’s hospital room to visit him.
What do you talk about when you’re not supposed to talk about the one thing you should be talking about? It was late fall, hunting season, and knowing Gene was quite a hunter, we got to talking about that. Then Gene told me a story:
It was a day about that same time of year 30 years earlier, he was out deer hunting and it started to snow. That was good news. It made tracking the deer so much easier. And there they were – a set of deer tracks, so Gene started following them. The snow started coming down harder. He kept following the tracks. The snow came down even harder, beginning to obscure the tracks. Finally, it was a blizzard. Not only couldn’t he see the deer tracks, he couldn’t see his own tracks. He had no idea where he was. He was lost in a sea of white.
That’s where Gene ended his story. I didn’t get it at first, why he would tell me that story and end it in such a way. But it only took me a moment or two to understand – Gene KNEW he was dying. This was an old story, a story of mystery from his past that he was taking out again to take a new look at it. He was dying. He felt lost. When had he ever felt lost before? And what happened to him THEN? How did he end up THAT time?
The most important stories in our lives are mysteries, and we take them out from time to time, like Mother’s old jewelry, or Dad’s gold pocket watch, to examine them once again and see what they might mean to us in the here and now.
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now,” Jesus says in John’s Gospel, “But when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you… (John 16:12-13).”
I wonder if Jesus understood that his story, the story of his life, death and resurrection, would leave us with mystery. As we come to the end of Lent and anticipate Holy Week, I invite you to join me in taking out Jesus’ story once again, hold it in your heart and mind, and see what it means to us today.
Your friend and fellow minister,
Rev. Steve Savides