February 2, 2020
Last week I told you about my son Michael — my biological child, my wild Epiphany child. Today I am going to tell you a story about my other son, my adopted son — not a wild child, a fragile one. Alan was blessed with a remarkable gift, a gift that could only be imagined by the creator of heaven and earth — a gift of music that literally filled him and linked him inexorably to the mystical realm of heaven.
Alan began playing the organ when he was six years old and playing professionally at nine. He played the organ at the Crystal Cathedral every Sunday morning for ten years and in that time, set off on a journey that took him around the world, playing great organs everywhere, dazzling in his youth and exuberance. In 1994 he arrived in Phoenix to study with Bill Brown and Kimberly Marshall in a doctoral program at ASU. When I began my time at Trinity Cathedral in 1995, Alan had been there a year — he was twenty-nine, I was forty-eight and we embarked on a spiritual journey of blessing that was grounded in humility, compassion, mercy, peace and purity of heart. We sought to enact in the daily rhythm of the cathedral a spirit of tenderness as we cared for the beloved children of God of Trinity Cathedral and we each found strength in the broken heart of the other.
Alan and I were kindred spirits and after his mother and father died a year apart, he said, “I’m not ready to be an orphan, will you be my adopted mother?” I promised I would do my best, knowing that we are all the adopted children of God. Embedded in the beatitudes is the promise of a life of being beloved of God; we enter into this sacred life of blessing, not expecting a life free from pain and suffering but a life of offering, a life of surrender, humility, a life of radical grace that comes only from letting go of ego and control for the sake of others.
Alan and I honored that call as companions in the way of Jesus for twenty-four years. We worked together for fourteen years, ten at Trinity and four at Saint Mark’s Cathedral. Whether together or apart, we spoke almost every day and my biological children called Alan their other brother. Carolyn and Sandra each had a very special relationship with Alan, knowing him, not as a musician but as a beloved brother.
On January 14, Alan entered into the larger life of the kingdom of God and I am clinging to these words of Jesus: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” as I prepare to make the public offering of remembrance at his funeral on February 18 in Phoenix.
This day is a bit of a paradox as we celebrate the feast of presentation of the Jesus in the temple and Jesus preaching from the mountaintop. After these many weeks of preparing the way, celebrating the birth, meeting angels, shepherds and kings, we finally encounter Jesus, not as a promise or an infant or a young boy — today we meet Jesus on the mountaintop, in his prime, laying the foundation of the great reversal he called the Kingdom of God. It is on this Sunday we see God revealed before our eyes and we discover the absolute radical nature of the Kingdom of God. And then tonight, we will sit in this space in the dark and, like Simeon encountering Mary and her first born son, we will feel our hearts stirred. Simeon proclaimed, “Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised; for these eyes of mine have seen the Savior. A light to enlighten us all.” These beautiful words of the Nunc dimittis prepare us for the explosive power of Jesus on the mountaintop, proclaiming a new vision of heaven and earth — a vision of blessing and belovedness.
Everything we might have expected about God’s kingdom is turned upside down. And even in death, we find comfort, for as I offered a few weeks ago, Jesus has called us first to see all reality through the eyes of the eternal realm of the kingdom of God. We are called not to fix our eyes on this moment but on the infinite promise that God is always with us. It is this promise that is proclaimed on the mountaintop and it is this promise that allows us to carry on even in the midst of grief. We are the beloved community that is called to live and proclaim God’s blessing at all times and for all people.
We are not simply the recipients of blessing, we are called to be signs of God’s love in the world — expressions of the eternal and infinite love that created heaven and earth.
My favorite theologian, that wild Dane Soren Kierkegaard sets the part in his discourse: Purity of heart is to will one thing. As he quotes Ecclesiastes 3:11, “God made all things beautiful in his time; also God has set eternity within the human heart.” Kierkegaard says,”Before the quiet gaze of the Eternal, there is no hiding place.” It is this eternal one, this one we see in the person of Jesus the Christ is where we begin — in the promise, in the infant child, on the mountaintop and even in our grief, we shall see God and know that “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
And so, on this Sunday of Presentation and Proclamation, we live full of grace and I know my dear adopted son, Alan is rejoicing in the presence of all that is holy and I remember that he made an offering of his extraordinary gift of music — pulling out all the stops and filling us with joy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.