Meeting Jesus, Along the Way (2017)

OKLAHOMA CITY – I saw Him in the summer of 2014 at Lake Hefner, when our Jewish community and friends prayed for three young men, children of Abraham murdered in another spurt of violence aimed at the nation and people of Israel. We followed Rabbi Vered Harris that day, who prayed for those young men and for a young Arab Muslim who had also been killed.

Over the years, I felt the Father (Abba) when the Chabad Community Center and “my” rabbi, Ovadia Goldman, lit the Menorah in Bricktown on the first night of the Festival of Lights, lifting communal petitions to a loving God. I felt Jesus was near me as — at dinner with the Rabbi some years ago during my only trip to Israel — I looked across the Kidron Valley at the Temple Mount.

I remember Him in four men who supported me in reporting the truth as I saw it at varied times during my career in journalism: Paul Weyrich, Edward L. Gaylord, Brandon Dutcher, Bob Lemon. I had my Lord’s counsel, from reporters and colleagues over the many years that flowed like a mighty river, after I discovered late in college that I had the soul of a reporter.

In 2014, I saw Him during a fundraiser at Church of the Open Arms, benefiting the Food Pantry where the poor “shop” for necessities. I heard Him there in in traditional songs and verses proclaimed, in the a capella grace of “Mixed Company” and “the Back Row,” in the flute/guitar prelude, in Tara Henry’s joyful call for a Long-Distance Operator to get “Jesus on the Line,” from the grace in Tim Robinson’s soaring instrumentals, and through the actions of Pantry volunteers. 

Every year, His message soars toward the Heavens in the Vespers service from Oklahoma City University’s assembled choirs – especially in the worship space at First Presbyterian Church, near campus. In that place, I experienced His all-enveloping love in September, listening to members and supporters of the Painted Sky Opera company, my eyes closed as Saira Frank and Brett Payne soared in a duet, “The Prayer.”

I saw Him in the life of John Paul the Great. I heard Him in JP II’s successors. I understand Him in the words of St. Francis: “Preach the Gospel, using words if necessary.” I experience Him when Our Lady’s Cathedral Choir raises united voices for Sacred Liturgies, year after year. I saw him as Father Price Oswalt and the deacon wore rose-colored vestments for this year’s Gaudate (Rejoice) Sunday Mass. One recent year, I felt Him, sitting nearby in a pew at Olivet Baptist, as Pastor Steve Kern sang a love song to his wife. 

I saw Him handing little candies or snacks to visitors at the White House, when the Ronald Reagan met with a small group of supporters in the 1980s. I am at peace when I remember encounters with the 40th President, and in the friendship of Brenda Jones (Barwick), who shared similar experiences with The Gipper. 

I know Him, in the breaking of the bread, and in the cuddle of a young grandchild. I’ve seen Him often among the students and staff at Justice Alma Wilson Seeworth Academy, ASTEC Charter School and St. Charles Borromeo. I have known His practical support, in the work of my closest professional associates, Darla Shelden, Joni Menton and Stacy Martin. 

I do not profess to understand every moment when I met Jesus, along the way. With age has come the certainty that I have entertained Angels, unaware (Hebrews 13:2). As St. Paul said, I saw through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12), and one day shall see my God, face to face. Truth is immutable, yes, but our experience of it is colored by personality, disposition, the totality of a given moment of vulnerability, or anger, or intellectual acuity.

I serve Him, receiving the love of friends, my dear children – Josef, Stefan, Erin and Andy – and grandchildren, and the blessings of my beloved spouse, Pamela. He is there in the moments of love, and even in times of hate. Usually just outside the realm of sight, but sometimes right in front of me.

As my Savior said, I only need eyes to see, and ears to hear (Matthew 11:15; 13:9) And, to be sure, a heart to believe. 
“The proof of love is its manifestation in deeds (1 John 4:16). … [L]et not one believe the answer his heart gives in his own case apart from the testimony of his works. Let him examine his words, his thoughts and his life concerning the love of his Creator. God’s love is never idle. Where it exists, it does great things; if it refuses to work, it is not love.”
Homily 30, from ‘Gregory the Great: Forty Gospel Homilies’ (Cistercian Publications)
pp 236-237, translated from Latin by Dom David Hurst, Monk of Portsmouth Abbey

NOTE: Earlier versions of this reflection have appeared on CapitolBeatOK and for The City Sentinel newspaper in past years, online and in print.