Friday, September 10, 2010

Appropriate Religious Speech

"Lord, take my hand and lead me, along life's way." The words to the old, familiar hymn sang into existence a very, clear and vivid memory. It was of her face, so confused, lost, and afraid. Her eyes seemed distant and longing. She was dying, her family gathered around her bedside at the nursing home. She was 99 years old, just a month or so short of 100. She had been in her life's final stage for awhile, but she always seemed to pull up at the last moment. Sadly, there would be no last minute heroics this time, she was played out. It showed in her pallor, in her breathing, and in those far away eyes.

Into the room wheeled her 98 year old brother. He was the elder statesman of the congregation, a true wisdom figure if there ever was one. His last few years had been pretty tough. He had survived a massive bee attack, several nasty falls, and had recently had his leg removed just above the knee due to poor circulation and wounds that would not heal. He wheeled himself straight toward her bed and the crowd parted as if Moses himself had raised his staff.

He took her hand in his and muttered a few words in German. Then without hesitation his shaky voice began to sing, the words were unintelligible to me, by the sound it was indeed German words he was singing, but the tune was clear and unmistakable, "Lord, take my hand and lead me, along life's way..." It was a holy moment. When he finished, he kissed her hand and then pushed back to join the rest of us who were gathered there. Her gaze still seemed distant and longing, and the confusion and lostness still registered on her face, but somehow she seemed a little more relaxed, a little less afraid, a little more ready to take the next step in her life's journey. It was indeed a holy moment.

As we sang that same hymn at nursing home devotions yesterday, those events of the not so long ago past came to mind. I can't help thinking about the world in which we live where religious speech is misappropriated and twisted into hate speech and to used to justify all sorts of bigotry, prejudice, and heinous actions that defy description (although the modern media falls all over itself to try). Perhaps religions critics are right. Perhaps religion is simply an infantile manifestation of wish fulfillment which humanity will be better off outgrowing, and the sooner the better. Perhaps...

Or perhaps the key can be found in the simple faith and actions of a humble 98 year old man who sang to his dying sister words of comfort, peace, and a living hope. Lord, take my hand and lead me along life's way...

I am the Unlikely Pastor. Welcome to my world.