Warm February afternoons bring the neighborhood children out to play. Laughter rings out and bikes are everywhere in the cul-de-sac like it’s Daytona. Sunset comes early even on warm February days. But the rituals of summer are alive even in this month that is still winter.
Robert Benson asks the question, “Where do you want to be when the sun goes down?” We have lived that answer on porches and decks, facing west with a glass of wine and pleasant conversation for over 53 years. This is the place where the neighborhood children came to visit. In the late afternoon sun, a gaggle of girls stood at the back gate. One of them, now nine years old, is tall enough to lift the latch on the gate.
We hear a small voice call out, “Can we come in and see your flowers?” We have few February flowers, but regardless the season, there is welcome for this gaggle of girls. Now they are laughing their joy and skipping down the brick path to where we are sitting. “Those red blooms on the bushes are camellias. The little yellow flowers are winter jasmine. The little purple flowers that are so fragrant are daphne.” The girls heard and nodded with glee. This little back yard soiree was glad even in the February dreariness.
Conversation turned to other things. School and teachers. Homework and who had the flu. Details of ordinary childhood days were shared like we were holding a summit of world leaders. There was talking, and there was a good dose of listening to the stories of the children. What are their hopes? What are their dreams?
They want to sing again with the little guitar strumming songs that are familiar to them. They want to learn about music and hear stories of the olden days. They want to know our age and why we come out in the afternoons to watch the sun set. “Look up at the sky,” we said. “Soon you will begin to see the stars come out. You can make a wish on the first star you see. Look at that little sliver of moon. If you look every night, you can see it grow and grow, then disappear for a few days. Look at the vapor trails of the airplanes. See how big the sky is, even in the city. Wonder where those people are going?”
They marveled as if they had never seen the sky like that before. One of the older ones said, “You know the airplanes are really flying on this side of the moon, don’t you?” (a little taste of rational thought amidst the delight of wondering.) They marveled that even in a little winter garden, there were still a few flowers showing off.
Too soon gaggles of girls, and all of us outgrow many of the delights of wonder and marvel. We want answers instead of questions. We want to know, as if we ever really can. Part of the spiritual journey we all are called to is to become children again – gaggles of girls and boys – to enter mystery and marvel in that realm of all that is Unknown to us. “Behold, I tell you a mystery…” Jesus says. When we set our minds on temporary things, we deny the grace we are offered in Christ.
In a couple of weeks, the United Methodist Church will gather to make huge decisions that will effect all of us who call ourselves United Methodist. I wish all the decision makers could sit on my back deck with the gaggle of girls from my neighborhood and remember again the call to hold question and mystery in the great grace that is Jesus. Open the gate to joy and delight for all God’s children and live with wonder the gift that is ours in the church. Err on the side of hospitality. Err on the side of grace.
When the story of us is written, will history record that entrenchment and ideology separated us – like it did when the church split over slavery? Or will we write a new song, one born in Baptism and watered in love. Who do we want to be when the sun goes down? Let us open the gate to a bigger way of being the church. Amen.