-- Jeremiah 29:13-14a (NRSV)
When I first met my friend G, he was rehearsing for a performance of the Mendelssohn oratorio Elijah, which contains a tenor aria taken from this Scripture. “If with all your hearts ye truly seek…” he sang. G and I became friends because at the time I knew him he didn’t have a car, and we had some destinations in common, so I became one of his “carpool friends.” In fact, one of my happiest memories of G is a memory of an Advent evening when we were driving in a heavy, silent snow—huge, fat flakes drifting down slowly, white against the dark of evergreens and the orange of street lights, glistening on the ground—and we were singing snatches of Handel’s Messiah to one another, enjoying ourselves, as if time would last forever. Our friendship was not always easy. We argued and forgave, disappointed one another and gave to one another, found ourselves distant at times and closer at others. I began to feel that G’s place in my heart was a ‘family place,’ that he was, on some spiritual level, a brother of mine. I don’t know what he thought—that depended from day to day. G was a restless spirit, who had tried a million things in life and had a million plans.
G became ill and was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS. This was years ago; before the drugs existed that now offer at least some people hope for years of reasonable-quality life. His condition progressed rapidly, and I was one of a huge raft of people who took part in attempting to care for him. Together the group of us shopped for groceries, did laundry, interpreted medical results, took G out for social occasions, cleaned his house, listened late at night when he was alone and afraid, and tried with varying degrees of success to cope with G’s need for independence. The loss of agency was a loss G mourned bitterly in his illness, and there were times when despite my desire to be of helped I stepped exactly wrong and hurt his feelings instead. So we still struggled; we still loved and hurt and disappointed and forgave. And he was still my brother.
All G’s relationships in those last months were a dance of closeness followed by lashing out, but it is a measure of the greatness of his heart that, on the day he died, a group of us gathered at his bed, and each of us was a person who had been “fired” by G in at least one role, at least once. Still, we were there, as he knew at some level we would be, to love him through this great transition. When I arrived (we were skidding from all over town across ice-covered intersections on a winter morning) our friend W, himself a gifted musician, was singing softly to G, singing the same aria that had begun our friendship: “If, with all your hearts, ye truly seek…” W said what has stuck in my mind ever since: that, at the end, this promise of faith is one worth hearing.
There was a memorial service for G, and another of his musician friends sang. A glorious contralto, she picked for her contribution…that exact aria! And I sat, and wept, at the words and the promise. When I told her afterward of the multilayered connections between G, W, me, beginning, end, and those words, she was stunned. She had had no idea. She just felt it right to sing that particular piece. We stood and had goose bumps together, G’s last gift to either of us. He always liked surprises. And he loved having the last word.
From that day forward this Scripture has been a solid rock at the core of my faith. It speaks to a God of passionate involvement, a God whose promise is unflagging, a God who will not hide from the wholehearted seeker, a God who does not require specific words or specific rituals, a God who requires simply nothing more or less than our whole hearts. That same God who called to Mary and called to Joseph, that same God who calls to us each and every waiting day of Advent, promises that as long as we seek with our hearts we shall find. No doubts and no exceptions.
Almighty and amazing God, we thank You for the promise to reveal Yourself, if we seek You with all our hearts. Help us to lean on that promise when we feel far away from You. Help us to lean on that promise when our churches are less than helpful in our seeking. Help us to lean on that promise when the waiting seems too long and hard. And help us to seek You in Advent season, so that, as your Son was born into the world, You will burst also into our hearts and souls and lives. Amen.
-- Terri Colburn