For weeks and weeks after my husband, Bryan, died I had a memory that looped around and around in my brain. It happened just a week before he died. Bryan was a licensed clinical psychologist. He had a private practice at one time but he didn’t like fighting with insurance companies and he felt he wanted to do something other than help the privileged with their angst. So he signed up to work as a county employee serving the persistently and severely mentally ill. It was hard work, emotionally taxing and sometimes dangerous. The county knew that so they had a security guard on duty and they put in bulletproof glass between the support staff at the front desk and the clients in the waiting room.
A week before Bryan died we were sitting together in the living room. He was reading the paper and I was playing Words with Friends on my iPad. He seemed even more contemplative than usual and so I said, “Did you have a rough day?” He looked up from the paper and said, “I had…” he paused to find the right word. “I had an interesting day,” he said. Then he told me a story.
He said he was in his office when the staff at the front desk called him and said he was needed up front. There were two licensed psychologists on staff but Bryan was the only 6’3” male so he got called to the front whenever there was a problem in which his size would be an asset.
The staff members were standing next to the bulletproof glass staring at a lone woman sitting in the waiting room. She was agitated and combative. She had arrived without an appointment and when they tried to make her one for later in the week she couldn’t control her frustration. For safety, the security guard had cleared out all the other clients. The woman was just sitting there, yelling threats and expletives, refusing to leave.
Bryan went out into the waiting room and sat down near the woman. He didn’t look at her and he made sure he left a chair in between them. She was still yelling. So he began to softly sing a Beatles song:
All my troubles seemed so far away
Now it looks as though they’re hear to stay
Oh, I believe in yesterday
The woman stopped telling everyone off and she began to sing with Bryan
I’m not half the man I used to be
There’s a shadow hanging over me
Oh, yesterday came suddenly
When they finished singing they just sat quietly for awhile, neither of them looking at the other one. Then the woman launched into another Beatles song.
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun
And I say, it’s all right
Now Bryan joined her and they sang their second duet.
It’s been a long cold lonely winter
It feels like years since it’s been here
They finished the song and sat quietly for a little longer. Still not making any eye contact with the woman, Bryan said, “I would like to get you an appointment to see the doctor and a psychologist. We also might be able to help with the housing situation.” Very calmly she said, “Yes. Let’s do that.”
When they stood up she said, “Thank you, doctor.” “It was my pleasure,” he said. “And thanks for the songs.” “You’re welcome,” she said. And for the first time they looked at each other and smiled.
He told me he went back to his office, closed his door, took off his glasses and wept.
I remember not responding when he told me the story. Sometimes you hear something so beautiful that you know that if you spoke your words would just smear it up. What he shared had sacredness in it so deep that only a story could hold it.
I remember my preaching professor in seminary suggesting that we soon-to-be preachers would at some point be reading our Bibles and we would come upon one word or one sentence that we couldn’t shake and we would feel compelled to preach it. That happened to me with this week’s text. I ran upon this fragment of a sentence in Matthew 13:34: …without a parable Jesus told them nothing. It sounds a bit hyperbolic to me. Jesus surely didn’t just speak in parables. Imagine him having to ask directions to the nearest bathroom using only a parable ….without a parable Jesus told them nothing. Then the scripture goes on to tell us why Jesus spoke in parables: to proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.
The author of the Gospel of Matthew wants us to know that Jesus understood the sacred, mysterious nature of story and it was his primary way of teaching people about something that only a story could hold.
My oldest son writes songs, which is another form of storytelling. When he finishes a song he sends it to me on a wav.file. After I listen to one of his songs I usually call him and ask him what it means, which frustrates him to the nth degree. He usually says, “What does it mean to you?” But recently he said, “I hate it when you ask me that question. I already told you what it means in the form of a song. If I could tell it to you in a different way I would have done that.” Stories allow us to convey meaning that mere conversation cannot.
Today we gave our Fourth Graders Bibles. We didn’t give them Bibles because it is the rulebook they have to follow in order to get into heaven. It isn’t a history book of facts they need to memorize in order to be good Christians. It is the book of sacred, mysterious stories of God and God’s people that can lead us to deeper truths. We gave them their own copies because we each need to read the stories for ourselves and let them speak to us. We need to find the beauty and the mystery that draws us into the story.
When Bryan told me the story of the Beatles songs and the agitated woman, I felt like I was in the room with them. I could hear the woman yelling; I could see the other staff members watching Bryan from behind the bulletproof glass; I could hear the music they sang; and I felt myself smile when Bryan and the woman finally looked at each other. I was drawn into the story and when he was done telling it I wanted to do a better job of truly seeing another’s worth, even if I never looked them in the eye.
In order to see and experience the mystery of God, we need story and metaphor, poetry and music. We want our children to approach their Bibles with anticipation for how they will be drawn in and become characters in the grand story of God’s love. We want them to read the story of Creation and ask themselves, “How do I treat this world that God created so good?” We want them to read the story of Esther and ask themselves, “At this moment in time, what is God’s call on my life?” We want them to read the story of the Prodigal Son and hear the truth that God will hike up God’s robe and undignifyingly run out on the road to welcome them home. We want them to read the story of the Good Samaritan and think to themselves, “I want to love my neighbor as I love myself.” We want them to read the stories of God and God’s people and find themselves in those stories. That is why we give our children their own Bibles…so they can read them for themselves and be drawn into God’s grand story of love.
But this isn’t just true for our children. It is true for all of us. Read your Bibles with anticipation of the truth and love and mystery and sacredness you will find in its pages. Read your Bibles and be drawn into the story yourselves. Amen.