Sunday Week 30 Year A

I learned this week that I am to be an uncle. My brother and his wife are to be parents and my mother is to be a grandparent. Not just a new life coming to term, growing into being, but a whole web of new relationships being born. I’ve done nothing but wait, but who I am, and am to be, is being changed. Soon I’ll be an uncle and right now I am an uncle-to-be.
I’ve been thinking about relationships. The power they have to change us whether we cooperate or not. It’s a shame we are a such a focused culture—parent-child, partner-partner, sibling-sibling—these are about the only kin ties we really recognise—who can figure out all that cousin stuff. Other places and other times kinship was a wider web and our identity an ever-flowing flux.
When relationships end our vocabulary is even poorer. If my wife or husband dies I am widow. If my parent, orphan. But my child, my brother, my nephew, my aunt—I am merely bereaved. I have lost something but what I’ve lost cannot be specified. This week I’ve been wanting a word for someone who has lost a parishioner, a fellow minister, a nearly-friend, a choir-member, a guy I admired but didn’t know too well—Charlie. Because his death has touched me this week and I haven’t had the words to say why or even how.
From day to day I spend my life destroying the empty page. That’s my job right now—to cover empty pages with ink and unfold a story of how God loves the world. Oh but how each page feels like an enemy! You conquer one and the next rises up as blank as the last to mirror the empty feeling inside. Yet there’s no way between the thought in the heart and the expression on the inky page except through the empty hole of the unwritten page. Each page speaks of emptiness, of death, of nothingness. And each page filled is a miracle. It might never have been at all and as it is it might be better dead.
As I’ve tried to get near Charlie’s death this week I’ve felt the same thing. A reluctance to approach the hole in life which death seems to be. Every time I’ve crept there I’ve backed off before tears threatened. Because after all Charlie isn’t my parent or my brother—I am not widow or orphan—only … what? It took a love song to bring me tears. Yesterday, driving, Jesus sang to me in Shania Twain’s voice and for a moment the tears flowed. Who am I to God that God should love me so? Well the tears lasted only a moment. They did their job and left me amazed and grateful and awestruck—and right here. Remembering Charlie sing, remembering his humour, his strength, his courage. And feeling, I think, some of what God feels about his passing—delighted by his life, angry as hell at his early death, and relieved to have him beyond pain, beyond wheelchairs, and fully alive again.
We are not used to having law seasoned with love. But only love explains anger. And God is promising to be angry—angry as hell if the stranger is mistreated, if the widow is wronged, the orphan abandoned, the poor made poorer. Who are these people? All of them fall outside the web of relationships. They are kin to none, protected by none—no one’s uncle or sister or parent or niece—no one is personally involved enough to blaze with anger when they are hurt. But God is! God stakes his claim. God claims her own. The kin-less are kin of God.
Which brings us here—you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind—and your neighbour as yourself. Who are we? Who is my neighbour? What weaves a web of relationship between us? Only the one God who has claimed us each as kin and made us each essential to the other. “No man is an island,” preached John Donne, “each man’s death diminishes me.” Now if only I could put a name on what I’ve lost this week and what I’ve found. And if only I could bridge the gap between the two.
The hole between each of us … the empty air between our skins makes all relationship a miracle. A miracle of love. A risk. A death. A life. Between the good idea and it’s expression lies the empty page. Between you and me lies the empty air. How do we bridge the gap? How do we find the touching place? How do we create a new life, a new relationship, a new song? Only by taking the risk that God takes constantly—the risk of death, of emptiness, of not getting it right—the risk of creation, the risk of love.
Charlie lived with AIDS for a long time. Unlike most of us he faced his death early and often. He touched that empty space in between life and death. And he didn’t let it kill him early. Somehow he found the courage to sing.
So must we all.