A lifetime ago, I was invited to “preach” at an Episcopalian Sunday service in Parkersburg, West Virginia, the homeland of my heart. That honor was not available to women in my own, Catholic tradition.
A dear, kind Baptist minister friend lent me a Jewish prayer shawl to wear. He had bought in on a trip to the Holy Land and it was precious to him. I can feel the tassels that brushed my fingertips.
Over it, I wore a stole left behind by my husband, who had died. Once a Catholic priest, he had purchased the ecclesiastical garment in the Philippines, where he had served as a missionary. A ribbon of vibrant royal blue and shamrock green, it was woven in an indigenous pattern. My Fr. Jim was beloved for his earthy, human sermons and I hoped his energy would bless my words.
I began, “I come to you today, a Catholic woman, in an Episcopal sanctuary, wearing a Jewish prayer shawl lent to me by a Baptist minister and shrouded in the a stole of a man, a missionary priest who said he found his humanity among the poor in island jungles. Let us reflect together on the oneness behind our forms.”
Beyond that, I don’t remember much of what I said. I remember sunlight that streamed through clerestory stained glass windows to bath me in a prism of light. My words were carried on those beams, on the breath of Wisdom. They were not mine; I received their story.
After the service, the wizened old man toddled up behind a walker. His steps were pained, and I waited. He was on a mission. Bent, he stopped in front of me and released one hand off his support to grab mine.
“Young lady,” he said, in his slow mountaineer drawl. The organ pumped the last note of a hymn. “You missed your calling. That was the best damned sermon I ever heard. I do believe it filled me up with love.” Tears leaked down his cheeks.
The energy of his touch was warm and gentle. I wanted to fall to my knees and ask him to cradle my head with his blessing. I didn’t. I wish I had.
© 2021, Linda Sandel Pettit, Ed.D., intuitive spirituality teacher
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