Scripture Readings, May 5, 2024

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48

1 John 4:7-10

John 15:9-17

One of my favorite stories about Walt Whitman, the American poet and essayist of the 1800s, is of a time he was in jail because of protesting some social issue of his day. His friend Ralph Waldo Emmerson came to visit him in jail one day, and when he saw Whitman in his jail cell, he said to him, “Walt, what are you doing in here?” Whitman’s reported reply was, “Ralph, what are you doing out there?”

It’s a good question for all of us, I suspect. What are we doing out there, out in the world, out amid life where all that matters one way or the other is taking place? After all, according to John’s Gospel, it was Jesus who sent us out into the world to make a difference. “It was not you who chose me,” he said, “but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.” It’s the “remaining” part that can put us into a quandary. Does anything of what we are about make any difference in the larger picture of things?

Last month, PBS television ran a series entitled “A Brief History of the Future.” It was an intriguing title since history is generally about the past, about what was and not about what will be. Nevertheless, the series was about people who look to the future, who plan for life beyond their own time, and for how their efforts will make life better — not for themselves but for those yet to be born.

At one point, the series spoke of those with “cathedral thinking.” In the Middle Ages, those who built cathedrals and laid the cornerstones knew they would never see the completed result of all their efforts. They saw a future beyond themselves and committed themselves to it for the sake of those yet to be born. It seems to encourage us to somehow do the same with the lives we’ve been given.

The series also interviewed Native Americans who, when they made decisions, asked themselves how what they were embarking upon would affect their children’s children’s children for seven generations down life’s road. It was another form of cathedral thinking.

We don’t often make decisions with such broad awareness. Most often, it’s enough to know what we’ll prepare for supper, how to make the next house payment, or what to do about the chest pain we’ve had for the past month. Who of us has time for cathedral thinking or for a seven-generation imagination? Yet perhaps Jesus’ command that we love one another is the ground work of anything that endures, one action at a time.

Some time back, I was sitting in a doctor’s waiting room and paging through the magazines that sat there before the pandemic took them all away. The back cover of one on gardening caught my eye. It was the story of a woman who wanted to take her mother to see a field of daffodils. Although wishing to appease her daughter, the mother found driving two hours on a foggy, treacherous road to view a field of daffodils held very little appeal. But the enthusiastic begging worked, and one day the trip was made. The daughter and mother eventually turned off onto a small gravel road, then stopped and got out of the car.

The mother was led down a narrow path around a bend before she looked up in amazement at a stunning palate of color. “Before me lay the most glorious sight. It looked as though someone had taken a great vat of gold and poured it down over the mountain peak and slopes. The flowers were planted in majestic, swirling patterns — great ribbons and swaths of deep orange, white, lemon yellow, salmon pink, saffron and butter yellow. Each different-colored variety was planted as a group so that it swirled and flowed like its own river with its own unique hue. There were five acres of flowers.”

Walking a bit further, they reached the house of the woman who’d planted the daffodils. On the patio was a poster that read, “Answers to the questions I know you are asking.” It continued, “50,000 bulbs. One at a time, by one woman. Two hands, two feet and very little brain.” And finally, “Began in 1958.”

Love, one bulb at a time, one act of compassion, one listening ear, one welcome to the newcomer and immigrant, one patient whisp of understanding, one moment of forgiveness, one helping hand when we ourselves have run out of hands to offer, one smile even when it seems not deserved. It is how we build the future, not always with cathedral thinking but certainly with cathedral love.


Have you ever done anything with cathedral thinking?

Have you ever been loved in a way that has made a lasting impact? When?