Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Touched by the Breath of Heaven

It is often the little moments in life, the moments in which the touch of a whisper brushes against our cheek or the soft breath of a kiss caresses our skin, that we are truly changed. There are times that God works in torrents, but it has been my experience that it is far more frequent that he works through gentle drizzle. It is not the situations we find ourselves in that define who we are, but the way in which we respond to them, the way in which we allow such moments to reach within us and permeate our being, transforming the way in which we view the world we live in.

I have been blessed by several heavenly "kisses" in the last few days, moments that transcended time and space and for a moment transported me out of myself and into a different way of looking at the world. It is so easy to miss such moments, but they are always there if we have the eyes to see them.

This past Saturday I rose early to drive down to the mall in the dark in order to be out at the Vietnam Wall at 6:00 to meet a group of volunteers that had come to wash it. It would have been easy to focus on my fatigue that morning, and had I done so I would have likely missed out on a whole series of moments that touched my soul that day. As I drove a golf cart in between the WWII memorial and the reflecting pool I glanced East and as I did so brought the cart to a stop so that I could get a better look at the site that greeted my eyes. It was just before dawn, with just enough light to bring peace and solace, but not enough to take away from the majesty of the WWII Memorial and Washington Monument as they were lit up as beacons in the darkness. I was entirely alone. There was not another person in sight. The moment was for me and me alone. It was a majestic picture of sacrifice and love as they rose out of the darkness up to the heavens. In that moment I knew that I was resting in the hands of the father.

When I arrived at the wall I remained alone. It was not until I was laying out the second hose that two men walked up. For a while it looked like they were going to be the only ones there that day. Eventually several others did come, but it was a smaller group, which meant that I was able to actually assist more directly than usual. As the sun rose into the sky over the United States Capitol that morning I held a brush in my hand, scrubbing a panel that bore the names of more than 500 men who never came home from Vietnam in 1968. The rays of the rising sun lit up the panel as it was covered in suds and as it was washed clean by the streaming water it glistened in the light of a new day, a day of hope, a day of beauty, a day that was marked not only by sacrifice, but also by a new birth of freedom.

After we finished cleaning the wall I returned to the ranger station whereupon I was sent to open up the WWII Memorial that day. When I walked out to give the 10:00 talk I was met by a wonderful older man who told me that he had served on the ground grew for American Pilots flying out of England from 1942-1945. He was joined that day by both children and grandchildren and I had the pleasure of leading the whole family through his memorial. It was one of the longer talks I have given there, coming it at just over an hour and including a discussion of the bas relief panels that lined that Atlantic side. I chose that side because I rightly figured it would mean more to him. It wasn't until I got partway down the wall that I remembered that one of the panels on that wall portrays the crew of a B-17 gathered around the bomber just after it had returned from a mission. I was about to begin to describe the panel when I thought better of it and asked him to talk about his experience instead. He spoke of the B-24s he served and the 214 missions they flew into France and Germany, and what it was like to see the boys come back safely. The panel wasn't just one more sculpture in a memorial any longer. It was a window into his story, the story of a man who had brought his family with him to see through that very portal and glimpse the role their father/grandfather had played in the story of America and of WWII.

That same day I was sent to FDR to help cover the 12:00 talk. This time I had a family of four who were so interested that although I tried to keep the talk down to less than 30 minutes, held me engaged for more than an hour, helping them to see how that era fit into the larger story of America. The combination of those two moments made it abundantly clear to me why I am here in this place, doing what I am doing.

I went from work straight to the Capitol Hill Baptist church to help move food and supplies for a wedding reception. Upon arriving at the reception hall I was drafted into helping with food preparation, finding myself helping to cater a wedding for people I did not know, joining with Alison and others from the church in serving in a way I never had before. I have been to a lot of weddings and seen them from quite a variety of perspectives, but that was unlike anything I had seen before. I felt like Cinderella as I snuck upstairs to get a drink or to bring a new bowl of fruit out to the guests of the wedding. Sometimes a change in perspective helps to understand ones own position in life a little more clearly.

I remained with Alison far too long that evening and slept very little before having to rise once more to work at the Washington Monument all day. Not only was I working my normal 8 hours there though; I was also going down to work another 5.5 at the capitol for the Labor Day concert. I didn't know how I was going to make it through the day. By chance I happened to be assigned to "relief" duty that night, which meant I simply had to wonder around and talk to the concert attendees and help to relieve any rangers at the entry gates if they needed it. That meant that I not only got to watch and enjoy the entirety of the concert, but also that I was able to view much of it along wish Alison and other friends who were there. It was a beautiful evening and the music included the theme from "Apollo 13," music from "Exodus," a tribute to hollywood that included 20 different films, and the Raider's March. It was like a concert designed to bless my soul! This Saturday, on September 11, I am going to go to Wolf Trap and watch Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King as it is projected in high definition on a giant screen while the entire score to the film is played live.

Sometimes amidst the exhaustion and fatigue of life we find moments of great blessing in which the breath of heaven brushes against our consciousness and lifts us up to a higher plane of existence. Life is filled with such moments if we have the eyes to see them.

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