Monday, February 28, 2011

Flat-Lining Through Mortality?

Without a trace of melancholy, Pastor Dow's widow gushed excitedly to my mother, "I want to know what he's doing!"

The minister who married my parents received his eternal reward just after Christmas, at the age of 85. He and his wife, Mim, had spent their ministry serving throughout New England, including the coastal Maine congregation in Sedgwick where my Mom was raised, in the stately white church overlooking the village.

He had been a preacher from the old school, Pastor Dow, who lived and breathed his pastoral calling. Always studying, always memorizing, always visiting, always with a smile on his face, quick to encourage and loathe to despair, seemingly insatiable in his thirst for knowledge, wisdom, and faithfulness in all things Godly.

Just getting by on a retired pastor's pension in suburban Boston, a part of the country whose cost of living has become outrageously expensive, hardly seemed grievous enough a cause to move away. Besides, even in retirement, their own pastor valued his contributions to the small but faithful flock. Helping in worship services, leading prayers, teaching the children's Bible lesson; it's debatable whether the Dows ever actually retired at all.

Being diagnosed with cancer didn't seem to perturb Pastor Dow either, or Mim. The disease and its treatments posed grave prospects, yet little cause for angst, since they trusted implicitly in God's sovereignty. When my mother talked to them about it on the phone, they treated his cancer as a nuisance at worst, and at best, a gateway for Heaven.

Just Inside the Eastern Gate

So even when he died just before the New Year, his wife and daughters hardly seemed capable of mustering the requisite distress to mourn his passing. Indeed, Pastor Dow himself had gotten in the habit of advising his loved ones that if he passed away before them, he'd meet them "just inside the Eastern Gate." As if we were all booked on an exclusive vacation package, but we didn't know the date our ticket had stamped on it. If you get to go first, or I do, here's where we'll meet up. Like you'd do at a tourist icon in Paris or London.

It was in this vein of expectancy, certainty, and inevitability, then, that Mim exclaimed to my mother recently her wonderment at what her husband must be doing up in Heaven.

"I want to know what he's doing!"

Is he greeting family members and loved ones who had gone on before him? Organizing reunions of the Saints Triumphant from churches he'd pastored through the years? Meeting those who, unbeknownst to him, came to Christ through his ministry?

Or might he still be at the feet of Jesus, even two months into his eternal reward, spellbound with awe at His indescribable majesty?

Whatever Pastor Dow is doing at this moment in Heaven, we know theoretically that it pales in comparison to what even he, with all the expectancy and anticipation he'd exhibited throughout his lifetime for eternity, could have imagined. And Mim knows this. Beyond the pale lies glorious reality that defies mortal description, yet her thirst for her own reward - an almost literal thirst - cannot be quenched. The energy and desire emoted in the way she asked her question told my Mom that the promise of Heaven is as real to her as it could possibly be. Maybe now even moreso.

Yet, how real is it to you and me?

I Want to Want to Know

Sure, when we're at a loss for words at the funeral of a saint we knew was bound for Heaven, sometimes we fall into a hollow, churchy hypothetical conversation, pondering about what they're doing now. But we do so more out of wistful remembrance of the dearly departed, instead of an insatiable desire to join with those who have reached the farthest shore.

We're still too tied down here on Earth, with our aspirations, and even our anxieties. For us, Heaven can wait. Twenty-first century America is what we know.

We've got money to earn, families to raise, new things to purchase, employers to impress, and even a yard to mow and laundry that needs to get washed. Our lives are lived by clocks and phone calls, text messages and flight schedules. We operate on a horizontal plane, with a few blips upward on Sundays or when a crisis strikes. If you're anything like me, we're mostly flat-lining our way through mortality.

Except Mim.

Not that she's decided to cloister herself off from humanity and bide her time alone in a room, so caught up in the heavenlies that she's no Earthly good. And not even that she doesn't miss her husband terribly, and reminisce about sweeter days in his company.

Instead, for the Dows, Heaven's glories have been a palatable, even pungent mirage, shimmering just above the desert heat of human travail, of which they've experienced their share. Yet for all of the complications and rationalizations we busy post-modern believers can make of theology, theirs has been an incessant, childlike trust in God.

But childlike isn't really an adjective we Christian adults like, is it? Who wants to have their faith described as "childlike?" Doesn't that sound too immature and uneducated? Unsophisticated, unproven, unbalanced, and irresponsible?

Sometimes I wonder, though, who the more immature Christian is.

The one who marginalizes the literal glory of our Heavenly Father, or the one who basks in its promise?

I don't know about you, but I want to want to know what Pastor Dow is doing.
_____

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