~ I Happened To Be in the Neighborhood ~
A friend of mine was diligently caring for his almost ninety year old
mother. Since she needed twenty-four hour medical care, he visited her in
a nursing home. There were good and bad days for both of them. His Mom's
confusion ebbed and flowed like the ocean tide. Upon greeting her, she would
frequently and casually ask her son, with a big smile of child-like wonder
and delight, "What are you doing here?"
That question calls into mind so many various responses. The "I'm here
for you," "I care for you," "I love you," were already exemplified by my
friend's actions and in many past exchanges of words. He chose a casual yet
sublime answer: "I happened to be in the neighborhood."
As I write this I am surrounded by creation's serenity and majesty. The
only sounds are the gurgling of pristine water over creek bed rocks, a few
singing birds, cicadas and the buzz of a bee who seems interested in what
I am writing. Or maybe it just likes the smell of my gel pen ink. What am
I doing here? Oh, I could impress some people with, "Am in prayer and fasting
for a couple of days," or "I came into solitude to better hear the voice
of God." However, my friend's answer would be best my own, "I happened to
be in the neighborhood."
How I happened to be here at this time resulted from a complexity of need,
love, drive, ability and longing. But elaborating on those would only bring
boring attention to myself. My friend's response avoids that, for his Mom
was the center of his happening to be in her neighborhood.
Soon before her death, my friend prepared to leave her after a visit since
she seemed to have fallen asleep. Aware of his presence and what he was doing,
his mother opened her eyes and asked, "Why are you leaving so soon?" He
stayed until she was fully asleep. Although she was about to begin her 90th
year on earth, it was still too soon to bid her farewell into the next realm.
It always is. He wrote that someday he will join her in the heavens. Fully
lucid then, he says his Mom may well, with a teasing smile, ask, "What are
you doing here?" With a hearty laugh he'll reply, "I happened to be
in the neighborhood." He wrote he would also add one more thing, "And this
time I'm not leaving you."
I'm reminded of another place and time when that question, "What are you
doing here?" was asked. God posed the question to Elijah while he hid a
cave in Horeb from the threat of Jezebel after he slaughtered four hundred
and fifty prophets of Baal. Elijah could not answer, "I was in the neighborhood."
His answer involved fear and self-preservation. (1 Kings 19:9-10.)
Unfortunately, many preachers of the Gospel use fear and self-preservation
as motivators to scare people into using Christ as a fire escape from hell.
According to that same Gospel, no one in the neighborhood of heaven will
ever say, "I'm here because I feared for my life."
Last week's Reflection was excerpted from a newsletter I wrote thirty
two years ago. Here are two stories I didn't include: When a hermit returned
to his small cottage he built in a forest, he found a stranger searching
for valuables to steal. The hermit told him, "I know why you're in my neighborhood
and I am sorry you have come a long ways and found nothing. Here are my
clothes which I hope you will take as my gift." The thief slunk away leaving
the hermit almost naked, standing in the warm sunlight. The hermit said to
himself, "Poor fellow, I wish I could give him this sun."
A poor monk was sitting quietly in the shadows of an old stone church
as was his usual custom. An old woman of the neighborhood brought a beautifully
woven blanket with her and laid it on the place next to the monk and quietly
walked out. Later, another man stopped in to get warm. He noticed the blanket
beside the monk whose eyes were closed. Quietly and quickly, the man grabbed
the blanket and ran out. The monk, opening just one eye, sat still and smiled
as he watched the divine play. That play between gain and loss did not merit
leaving the neighborhood of God's presence to chase after self-centered
God happened to create us and we happen to share time on this earthly
neighborhood together. We also happen to be in touch with each other and
happen to reflect together on things of earthly and heavenly importance.
"Why" isn't as important as "How will we use these happenings for the good
of our spirits and those of others?" Another hour to hour question to ask
ourselves every day is, indeed, "What are you doing here?" The wisdom
of the answer will guide us into the next hour, and into the neighborhood
of the heavenly realm.
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
~ Education, Research and Advocacy
in the Christian Faith ~
Spiritual Resource Services © August 11, 2005
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