Last Sunday afternoon, as my wife Joy was finishing her final piano lesson of the day in the sanctuary of Christ Lutheran Church, she heard the heavy wooden front door of the church creak open. “Oh no, someone forgot to lock the door” she thought, wondering, with a twinge of guilt, who might have wandered in and how long she would have to talk with them before she could go home for the day. The lesson finished, she walked to the back of the sanctuary where a woman, who looked remarkably like Judy Dench, was seated quietly in the last pew.
“My name is Maureen” the woman said. “I’m in town for a conference and I happened to be walking by when it started raining. Seeing this lovely church I thought I’d try the door to see if I could get out of the rain.” Charmed by the woman’s lilting Scottish brogue and relieved that this would not be a difficult or lengthy interaction, Joy relaxed. Maureen, a puzzled look on her face, pointed to a board with member’s name tags at the back of the church. “Can I ask about that board? Are those names of people on the prayer list?” Walking to the board, she pointed to two of the names: Sheila Bell and William Bell. “My maiden name is ‘Bell’” she said, “and those are the first names of my parents who died years ago. I wonder if there’s a relation?” “They’re members here,” Joy replied, “Sheila is William’s mother and I don’t think there’s a relation as they’re African American.”
They stood quietly for a few moments, staring at the names on the board. Maureen broke the silence. “When I walked in here, other than getting out of the rain, I wanted a quiet place to pray. Seeing the full names of both my parents gave me something wonderful to focus on, to remember them.” In awe and seeming a bit dazed at what had happened, Maureen shook her head and turned to Joy. “I’m so glad this church was open. Thank you for helping me to spend some time with the beautiful memory of my parents.” Saying goodbye, she pushed open the large door and left.
On our way home that evening, Joy and I mused over all the many factors that had to fall into place for this to happen. The person assigned to lock the door forgot their job. Maureen, visiting from Scotland, walked by just as the rain started, and two church members with identical first and last names as her parents had their name tags on the board Maureen passed as she entered the church. A miracle, or mere serendipity? No disaster was averted, no disease was cured. It was insignificant, yet deeply moving, all in the same moment. Is it the work of God, delighting in bringing about such a moment through the almost incalculable probabilities involved? What then of the many unlikely accidents that weren’t avoided, the prognoses that fell to the worse? Were they missed while God was aligning the steps for Maureen to happen by?
Inspired by a Maori prayer from her native New Zealand, author Joy Cowley wrote a poem, (a musical setting of which is in the GPC choral library). Of course it doesn’t answer my questions. In fact it doesn’t even try, and that’s why I like it.
“May the mystery of God enfold us,
may the wisdom of God uphold us,
may the fragrance of God be around us,
may the brightness of God surround us,
may the wonder of God renew us,
may the loving of God flow through us,
may the peace of God deeply move us,
may the moving of God bring us peace.”