A Love Story

Quite some years ago I attended Mills College, studying in their department of education to get teaching credentials for both elementary and secondary education in Alaska and California.

On the first week of classes the school held a matriculation ceremony welcoming in the new freshman class.  At that time Mills was still a woman’s college for their undergraduate offerings.  What struck me was the close ties of many graduates who returned for this ceremony.  Women had assembled from classes going back to the 1930s – but not many.

I still get their alum magazine, which this month featured stories of students who had met their spouses while at Mills.

The first story of Michael and Katja warmed my heart.  Michael was working on a masters of fine arts and Katya spied him across the tables at the Olin Library.  This was in 2001.

Michael describes what he calls “a shock of recognition.”

“It was like a flash of lightning that blinds you.  I had this real feeling that we had met before.  I was a little shy, so it took a while to kind of warm up.  But I think the time that I decided to talk to Katya was when I started to notice that she was sort of waiting at the fountain for me!”

Katya corrects her husband, “Lingering,” with a smile.

“I remember feeling like, ‘Oh my gosh, something is happening…In that moment, the stakes just felt a lot higher because I just felt this sense of potential.  I just felt like Michael was really different than anyone else I had met.”

That began a romance of nineteen years…still going strong.

Most of us have known those feelings, that bond.  Many of us are still living that delight, though some of the fire may have subsided and we’re comfortable old married folks.  For some unrequited love may be now felt as a residual tragedy or irretrievable loss.

The fact still remains – we’re made for one another. 

At Epiphany we celebrate a love letter from God.  That’s what the Star of Revelation is all about.  Just as Katya realized, “Something is happening.”

Our younger son met Alexis online.  We are so overjoyed that they both realized after several dates, “Something is happening.”  And now a wedding is scheduled for October 7th of this year…and we delight in the joy they find in one another.  Something is happening indeed!

It all started with a Big Bang when, in the twinkling of the Divine Eye, everything came into being: “The stars and planets in their courses.”  Dandelions and lady bugs, lizards and dinosaurs.  Not all at once, but like any true romance, gradually unfolding — A huge bit something happening.

And finally, you and me.

That is what the Feast of Epiphany is all about – SOMETHING IS HAPPENING in that simple manger far away.  And happening still today.

That is the love story of the Divine Lover and the Creation.  The will is to flourish in the same way Michael and Katja have flourished, the way couples and communities have flourished down through the ages.

That is the never-ending Love Story, unfolding on the first pages of Genesis.  To each of us comes the call, “Arise, shine; for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”

Yes, it’s not all roses.  This world yet knows much darkness.  But as John Ford Coley, croons, “Love is the Answer.”

Not a sentimental love, though the fireworks are a help.  I’m talking of love that goes out of its way to boost flourishing – even when you DON’T feel like it.

It’s the love that takes you outside of your comfort zone.  It’s what leads you to do that minor errand, simply because you know it will make the other person happy.

It’s the love for your country that leads you to walk precinct for a candidate you believe will do a good job.  To walk for several hours even though you could be curled up on the couch with a good novel.  Even when the joints ache and the back is sore and the street lights have already turned on.

It was that lightning attraction of a miraculous star that led those three travelers to their heart’s delight.

And what gifts might we bring?

I’m reminded of all those who down through the years have been keepers of the flame of faith.  The unheralded matriarchs of our communities of faith who kept the doors open when hope was scarce and funds were even scarcer.

I think of Mrs. Nellie Hughes, wife of our pastor, who when I was a child led children’s church every Sunday …who tried to instill in us obstreperous boys some sense of decency and decorum…who tried to present a living faith through story and song that would last our whole life long. 

The fact that I still fondly remember her and her gentle admonitions, her stories and smile, says she had succeeded far beyond what she might have imagined.  She was God’s love letter, and in her presence, something was happening.

That’s what the Star of Revelation is all about – Love is the Answer, and Something’s Happening.

When I was at All Saints Church in Pasadena, one of our clergy was a priest from South Africa.  As a white woman, Wilma might have easily said goodbye forever to that tormented land.

Since its first President Nelson Mandela left office, South Africa has been racked by unemployment, crime, and corruption.  Wilma chose to return.  As a white Afrikaner, she is aware she had little leverage to do much to be of help.  But what she could do, she would.  That’s the Wilma of generous heart that we all loved at All Saints.  I still miss the lilt of her English accent when remember her.

In the sermon she preached on her farewell Sunday, Wilma mentioned a website dedicated to those white Afrikaners who have committed to remain and do whatever they can to heal the dysfunction of their great nation.  The site’s hashtag is: #ImStaying  You can find it also on Facebook.

Here is the story of one of the faithful, generous souls who have screwed up their fortitude and have pledged their lot with their fellow countrymen and women.  It is the story of one white South Afrikaner woman who’s staying put.  These beautiful citizens of that fabled country brightly reflect glimmers of the Christ Star.  And what they reveal is hope for the planet – the hope of some simple, decent humanity.

This woman’s journey is the sacramental presence of God’s love – that divine “Something’s Happening” story.

Here is one post on #ImStaying that is right out of God’s never-ending Love Story.

The narrator says that on her drive home one day, she saw a man on crutches lugging a suitcase on wheels.  Crossing a bridge, he was struggling mightily as he finally got to the other side.  He was tired and obviously ill.  She told her kids that she was going to stop and help him. 

She rolled down the window and asked the man if she could give him a lift somewhere.  His distorted face indicated to her that he was in some real difficulty.  He seemed somewhat confused.  He handed her a piece of paper saying he was deaf and dumb.  She began to speak very slowly and offered him a lift to where he needed to go.  He wrote on his paper, on a board he pulled from his backpack, his destination.  She had her son get out of the car and help with his bags.  Then she had the man sit next to her with his crutches.

As she drove along, the man kept writing messages to say thank you on his board, and she used the little sign language she knew to say that it was her pleasure.  She stopped along the way and got him something to drink and withdrew some money at her bank. 

When they got to the taxi station that was his destination, her son carried his suitcase to the cab.  As he left, she had tears streaming down her face.  She handed him a 400 Rand note in South African money, and hoped he would make it home safely.

She later told her kids that there was no way that many people would help a man like this, walking with crutches, with a distorted grimace on his face.  Speaking to her children as much to us, she continues:

People need help!  We can only do what we can with what we’ve got.  I’m just happy that being kind costs nothing and we have the potential to do so much good. 

I know that [they] will remember that day in particular for the rest of their lives and I hope it will encourage them to be good to other people.  We need to role model this behavior for our kids.[1]

The mother concluded that she again had tears in her eyes as she typed up her story.  She thanked #ImStaying for all the positive posts on the site, concluding with the prayer, “May God bless Africa.”

As my friend Jim Strathdee has so marvelously turned a Howard Thurman poem to song!

When the song of the angels is stilled.
When the star in the sky is gone.
When the kings and the shepherds have found their way home.
The work of Christmas is begun!

O Star of Brilliant Revelation, revealing our work.  The work of all the little people, the nobodies, the “least of these” – in whom Christ continues to daily preform the most astounding miracles.   We’re Staying.  Something’s Happening – a Love Story.  Let it ever be so, even here at little St. Francis.  Amen.

[1] Anonymous, #imstaying.

January 8, 2023, The Epiphany

“A Love Story”

The Rev. Dr. John C. Forney, St. Francis Episcopal Mission

Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

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