Thursday, September 1, 2011

Souveniers and True Selves

Sally and James and I were in Alaska last month. It was a sort of a “finished law school and completed the bar exam” trip for James.
While we were there we got some souvenirs: a birch bark basket from Skagway, a watercolor painting from Juneau, and a story from Ketchikan.
We were taking our own tour of the city on foot when we came to Creek Street. We felt drawn to the first building, the shop of a local native American-Alaskan artist named Norman.
Norman spoke with us at length about his faith. He spoke of a time when God spoke to him, when he was on a commercial fishing trip with a friend. The seas were rough and he made a mistake in the way he tied himself to the ship.
He found himself pitched over the side, disconnected from the ship. His heavy winter clothes soak-up the cold water and he struggled to stay on top of the water. His inexperienced friend didn’t know what to do. Norman was unable to propel himself closer to the ship and he thought, “I don’t want to die this way.” He knew what was on the bottom of the ocean: crabs that would pick his body clean to the bone.
Just then, he said he heard a voice, not through his ears but in his true self. It said, “Norman, tell your friend to tie the life preserver to a cleat and throw it to you. Then sit on it and rest.”
He called to his friend and did just that. His friend tried to pull Norman toward the boat but couldn’t. Just then, the seas rose and through Norman toward the ship. He grabbed the gunwale and pulled himself in.
Norman said he never questioned the source of that voice. It did not originate from within him, though that’s where he “heard” it. Though one man had scoffed at his conclusion and thrown him out of the man’s shop. Norman had a clear sense that God had cared for him.
He honored us by opening his heart to us, and we were blessed to be in communion with another believer.
Souvenirs help us remember, but they are eventually lost to us.
The communion of believers is forever. Like Holy Communion in our worship services that includes the words of Jesus, “Do this in remembrance of me”, communion is both a remembrance and an eternal reality.
We are bound together in our common relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus both helps us remember and experience him as the source of our true selves.