Many are the parishioners who have shared with me the impact of the final blessing at the end of our Eucharist on Sundays. Many are the parishioners who love the blessing. Some have actually suggested that I include the blessing in the bulletin so they can take it with them and reflect on it. A few months after I began offering the blessing a parishioner asked me to email it to him, and I gladly did because I believed that like many others the prayer found a home in his heart. And if I remember correctly, each night before he retires to bed, both he and his wife pray that blessing.
The blessing was authored by Henri-Frédéric Amiel, a Swiss moral philosopher and poet. He writes “Life is short. We don't have much time to gladden the hearts of those who walk this way with us. So, be swift to love and make haste to be kind.” It is such a powerful prayer. I have no idea what motivated Henri to author a prayer so profound and focused not on anything lofty, but on the essence of life and what life is all about. To the many people who have stopped to talk to me about the prayer, I can tell that something about that blessing evokes in them the core of what life should be about - kindness and love on a journey so fraught with meaninglessness, depression, chaos and death. Yet, in the midst of these darknesses, we are invited to trust and hope in a God who appears esoteric.
I was at a memorial in Ghana many, many years ago. And the interesting thing about the church in Ghana is, when you are a member of a parish and you do not tithe, when you die, your Burial Office is said at home. Well, it so happened that a parishioner of the local Anglican parish passed. But because this person didn’t tithe, the Burial Office was read at home. A local Anglican Evangelist was asked to preach since no clergy would preach. In the course of his sermon, the evangelist pulled an egg from his pocket, and invited everyone to look at the egg, and then out of nowhere, he dropped the egg. And because the floor was concrete, the egg fell apart upon impact. The shell was broken into many pieces and the yoke was splattered on the floor. That was a visible demonstration of the fragility of life. That image had stuck with me ever since. And anytime I offer that prayer, it is as if I am looking at an egg in a pocket, and watching the egg drop and scatter.
Such was my feeling this past Sunday when I read the TMZ report of the passing of Kobe Bryant. I thought it was a joke and so I checked the New York Times, CNN, Washington Post, LA Times, ESPN and Yahoo News to confirm for myself what I just read. But none of the news outlets had broken the story.
For that brief moment where I was searched for any information or confirmation, I was in denial. It felt to me that nothing like death would ever befall on Kobe - especially at this most prime of his life. He was way too young and talented to die. He had a beautiful and full life ahead of him. For that brief moment of living in denial, we don’t question at all because we are soaked deep in an assurance built on the wild illusion that a basketball star, a young person, or a loved one doesn’t deserve to die. He is your star as well as mine. I loved him. I loved his dedication to higher standards. I loved his distaste for mediocrity. I loved his dislike for lazy people. I loved his work ethic. I loved his dedication to his family. I loved everything Kobe. It breaks my heart that he died alongside his daughter, other parents, and children who were in the same basketball team with his daughter. My stomach churns over the fact that he passed whiles doing what he loved to do - being a dad, full of kindness and love.
All of our lives are like an egg in a pocket. We really don’t know which egg the evangelist will pick, and whether the egg bears your name or another person’s name. We live on borrowed time, and Job rightly reminds us that “Man (woman) that is born of a woman has but a few days and is full of trouble.” It is therefore for the sake of all the troubles which consume our lives that the Psalmist prays the Lord to“Teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” For this reason it hurts me deeply when I come across those who are so consumed with themselves that they simply cannot enjoy the gifts that others and life have to offer. It saddens my heart when I come across those who are so full of themselves that they believe they own their space - no, you don’t. You have but a few days to live. It frustrates me ever deeply when we hang on to stuff that, in the long run, do not matter, define who we are, or diminish us in any way. It distresses me ever more deeply when we hold on to little things, grudges which destroy relationships because of wrongs done to us. It breaks my heart when we miss the most important things in life - kindness and love because of betrayals, disappointments and hurt feelings.
During times like these, I ask myself what this is all about. Maybe, you have also asked yourself that same question or something similar. The emptiness which cloud our lives gives us no other option but to be hopeful in a God who offers us more than the solace of a new day, He prods us to walk on a path of kindness and love. For, after all is said and done, these two words - kindness and love - are all that will matter. This is one of the difficult times when my faith in God is rather strengthened. For if I opt not to believe in God, what then do I believe in? Myself? Heck no!! I cannot even help myself, much more to believe in myself to save myself.
And so in the midst of our helplessness and deepest grief, let me share with you a prayer by Bishop Steven Charleston-a retired Native American Bishop of The Episcopal Church. He writes “Fill me again, great Spirt, with all that I need to make it through this life of mine. Give me the vision I need to see clearly. Give me the strength I need to keep going. Give me the love I need to share what I have with others. Let me have a little courage and lot of wisdom, as much hope as you can spare…please give me your blessings again, dear Spirit, for I use them up so quickly in these dark times.”
I have come to learn that oftentimes it isn’t about what we have, or even that which expresses our worth, but what we are. And in all cases, we are an egg in a pocket. To understand this is to live with a kind of humility that values all relationships and seeks to empower others to be their better angels. To understand this is to be thankful, and to live thankfully.
With whom do you have to reconnect? To whom do you have to express your love? Who deserves your kindness today and always?
Life is short…be swift to love and make haste to be kind.