I never stopped loving you.
Last weekend was Labor Day, summer's last hurrah, a few days for one more hot dog, another beer, a ride on a roller coaster, a walk on the beach. The church was fairly empty these past few weeks, and we missed you! But it looks like everyone is back! And now our summer is quickly fading, isn’t it, despite some of the warm weather this past week. The light of day is growing shorter, the shadows longer as the sun shifts its place in the coming autumn sky. On a trip to CT last weekend I even saw the leaves of trees in CT previewing an occasional orange or red. The end of summer, last weekend, but the beginning of things too.
Except for this past year, I have lived virtually my whole life on an academic calendar. This was the big time of the year for me as students arrived on campus and invaded like a swarm of locusts. Like grade school and high schoolers, they came with new clothes, clean notebooks, ready to tackle, new material, more challenging courses, and there was always a hope-filled excitement in the air. It was time for a fresh start, there were new adventures ahead, knowledge that would empower them, relationships that promised at their very best, new love. The first week of September has always represented for me and my students a wonderful, hope-filled time.
I would often start the first class of a course with a famous quote from the book “The Little Prince”: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” Real learning and authentic growth requires a special way of seeing and hearing—not so much with eyes and ears, but more importantly, with the heart. I wanted my students to know that, despite all the information that they were going to be asked to cram into their heads, the most important knowledge they would receive would come to them through God’s loving and invisible whispers.
One semester at the end of that first class, a young woman approached me, asking if she could speak about a personal problem. Already?, I thought. It was about her boyfriend, and about her family. The problem was, simply, that her boyfriend was black, and she was white, and her parents and grandparents were all upset about it. She was confused, and angry, and hurt, and torn between the love of her parents and the love she had for this young man. No matter what she said to her parents, they couldn’t hear her. I’m not sure exactly what she wanted from me, except perhaps a sympathetic ear, but we talked for a while and at the end she asked me to pray for her and the situation. “Maybe God will work a miracle with my parents,” she said, hopefully. I smiled and we prayed together for them and her right then and there.
On my way to visit someone in the hospital the next day, I listened on the car radio to a story about September 11th. A woman was speaking about her husband who was in the Trade Center on the 103rd floor. They had separated for some months, divorce potentially ahead. A couple of weeks before, her children told her a secret that she wasn’t supposed to know. “Daddy says that he still loves you, but he doesn’t want us to tell you,” they said.
On that awful Tuesday morning (just like this year), her husband phoned her, calling to say goodbye. “Where are you going?” she said, thinking he was going on a trip somewhere. I’m on the top floor in the building that was hit, and I’m not going to make it, he said. She didn’t know about what had happened to the towers.
“ I want you to tell the kids that I love them,” he said.
There was a pause. “And I want you to know that I have never stopped loving you.” Another pause, the moment realizing itself to her. I know, she said, the kids told me the secret. Shortly afterwards the phone went dead. “I am remarried,” she said to the interviewer on the radio, “but I still hear his words every day as I never heard them all the years before. I don’t know how I couldn’t hear the love he had been offering me all the time”. It took that horrific moment for a miracle of the heart to occur for her.
Our readings today are so wonderful, and so inspiring, and they are all about seeing and hearing with the heart. Isaiah promises a God who will open blind eyes and deaf ears, a God who will bring forth a new season of refreshing waters and new hope. St. James speaks about seeing with the eyes of love, and not judging by external appearances, which mean little. And in the Gospel, Jesus makes a miracle, opening the ears of a deaf man and the eyes of his friends and disciples----to make them understand that what is essential is truly invisible, that it is only with the loving heart of God that one can see and hear rightly---and that God sees us all that way, no matter the color of our skin.
What is it about us that makes us turn deaf to one another, and blind? Little babies born perfect grow up and lose their senses. How does the heart that was fashioned in love turn stone cold?
At a hospital near the university that same September I visited an elderly lady who had been battling cancer for much too long. In spite of her months of suffering, she always offered me a warm smile, and a kiss upon my hand. It always got to me, that kiss. It had so much love in it. “Can you do me a favor, while you’re laid up for awhile in this bed?” I asked. She said yes, and then I asked her if she would pray for a miracle. I told her about the young woman who came up to me after class, and about her problem with her family. “Please pray for them,” I asked. Her small bony hand came out from beneath the covers, reaching out for my own. She was weak, and had little strength in her grip. “I’ll pray for her, God bless her,” she said. I could see her struggling to lift her head for that hand kiss, so I bent down and kissed her on the cheek. She said something, and I didn’t quite get it, garbled. I bent down closer to her face. She said it again, but no words came out of her mouth. It didn’t matter, I heard it anyway. Several hours later, and I believe, after lots of fervent prayers, she slipped into another place where she no longer saw with her eyes or heard with her ears, but surely saw and heard what was essential, in her heart.
It is a season of new beginnings. For many, it is a new year. With God’s help, we can work miracles for ourselves, and for the world around us. We can try to see and hear as God sees and hears, we can help others to see what is essential as it can only be seen from the heart. Shall we help to make God’s word true, shall we join together to make this God’s world, where the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf cleared, where the lame and the broken will leap like stag, and the tongues of the mutes will sing?
Pray for a miracle, and pray that you can work one as well.