Friday, February 24, 2012

Elevators, Imitation, and Encouragement

At the hospital yesterday morning for a pastoral visit, I stopped by the information station to ask for the most direct way to the blue elevators.  I had never ridden the blue elevators (which turned out to be small, cramped, and - true to their word - very blue).  The head lady at the information desk looked up, smiled warmly, and committed me to the charge of two women.  Usually, I'd receive a brief word of direction.  Today, though, two escorts.  I figured that I must have looked especially in need of help.  As we talked on the way to the blue elevators, I learned that these two women were new volunteers of the hospital.  First day on the not-for-pay job.  I was, for them, the equivalent of the errant bean can that the newbie grocer is asked to re-shelve.   They were getting in practice.

Once arrived at the third floor room, and having patiently endured my blue elevator ride, I waited as two nurses wrapped up some business in the room of the patient we had all (evidently) come to see.  One nurse was instructing the other by her example.  The other was listening, learning, and lending a hand where he could.  It immediately struck me that I had witnessed in these four individuals two instances of the apprenticeships that make community possible, relational, and beautiful: the willingness to walk with another.

St Paul had his Timothy.  Barnabas had John Mark.  Dean Travis of the Seminary of the Southwest paraphrased St Paul ("imitate me") when he reminded a recent assembly that "Example is not the best teacher - example is the only teacher."  I remember a fantastic New Testament class I took with Susan Eastman on the role of imitation in Scripture, the ancient world, and life.  How babies begin imitating almost from birth.   I remember Jude's baptism and Bishop Lillibridge's good word about the impressions our examples make.  He asked: "How might your life be an example worthy of this observation and taking in?"  That's at least part of what it means to be a Christian, he said: to consider the impression of faith that we impart to a baby's eyes, and to the world and one another.

I realize that moralism can potentially turn the dynamic between example and imitation into a dry burden; but what a gift it can also be!  Teaching, knowledge, embodied and shared in living relationship with others.  I thank God for the ordinary friends and saints who bravely let me get close enough to watch them.  I pray they see their fingerprints in me.  And especially because the Christian example is always one of rising and falling, rhythms of praise and the need for forgiveness, I pray for the humility and grace to welcome the gaze of others, so that we might teach, encourage, and build up one another on the sacred, pilgrim road.

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