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~ 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 gain.

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
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