Once upon time, I shared with you my obsession with Pako, our tuxedo cat of outstanding character. You may remember that the definition of this obsession is that Pako (without apology) gets whatever he wants, whenever he wants it. What does Pako want the most? L-O-V-E!!! Pako is a love addict and he seeks such love with great “purr-sistence.”
When I am at work, Pako constantly wants Karin to hold him. What’s wrong with that? Nothing, unless you need two hands to type your doctoral dissertation. It is a bit of a challenge to hug Pako and type at the same time. Try, however, to “control-alt-delete” him and you will discover that Pako is similar to one of those spiky burrs you keep picking off your socks after taking a walk in the woods. When I am home, all Pako wants is for me to “box” with him or scratch his neck. No “time-outs” permitted. What’s wrong with that? Nothing, unless it is in the middle of night, when I am trying to sleep. It is very difficult to snooze, when Pako is walking repeatedly across my head. “What?” you might ask. “You and your wife let Pako sleep with you?” Yes, we do. Our relationship with Pako is a “ménage a trois.” Laugh at us, if you want, but Pako’s “purr-sistence” has also been quite instructive.
It happens as often as the same commercials are repeated during an NFL game. A person comes to me lamenting that “life sucks” and then throws God under the bus: “Why does God do such things to me? Why doesn’t God help me?”
I usually reply, “Well, have you asked?” Most of the time they give me a funny look and change the subject, but if they answer “yes,” then I ask, “Persistently?” I suppose that most think God should answer immediately. Maybe God does, but we fail to hear the answer. So I say, “Ask persistently and then listen attentively.” Perhaps the voice of God is not a shout, but a whisper.
The larger question is, “What is it that we really need?”
Several years ago, Charlie died. Charlie was a young adult with significant disabilities. His death was sudden and unexpected. I did not know Charlie and I had met his parents only once. Nevertheless, they asked if I would assist with Charlie’s memorial service. I was more than willing to help.
When I met with Stephen and Gretchen, they were very clear that they wanted Charlie’s service to be a celebration with lots of music. “That’s what Charlie would have wanted,” they said.
“What did you have in mind?” I asked.
Stephen said, “I am going to get the Harlem Gospel Choir to come and sing.”
“Sure you are,” I skeptically thought to myself. But, much to my surprise, he did.
The day of the service the sanctuary was filled to overflowing with Charlie’s friends and family. The Harlem Gospel Choir led off my marching down the aisle singing, “When the Saints Go Marching In.” There are only eight or nine members of the choir, but those incredible voices lifted the roof off the church.
It was, however, when they sang Richard Smallwood’s Gospel song, “Total Praise,” that everybody in that room, if they were listening, learned how persistently asking God pays off. As the choir sang, they disbanded, and moved off the chancel toward the family. Then, each person in the choir took both hands of a family member and sang:
Lord, I will lift my eyes to the hills.
Knowing my help is coming from you.
Your peace you give me in time of the storm.
You are the source of my strength.
You are the strength of my life,
I lift my hands in total praise to you,
When they finished, the choir gently let go of the hands and embraced the family, before returning to the chancel area and singing once again, “You are the source of my strength. You are the strength of my life. I lift my hands in total praise to you.” They ended with an eight-fold “Amen” that, literally, took your breath away. Regardless of one’s spiritual inclination, everybody in that room was blown away. There is no way you could have been present and not felt the presence of the Divine.
The Divine One is not a Mr. or Ms. Fix-it. If we expect God to wave a magic wand and wipe away all life’s challenges, that God will come up short. If, however, we understand God as the “source of our strength” and the “strength of our life,” then we might just be onto something. If we persistently ask for strength, we might find some “peace…in the time of the storm” and even find ourselves singing an eight-fold “Amen.”