Mark 1:4-11John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
I would like to revisit my sermon of last week. I talked about how important stories are in scripture and how important they also are in our daily lives. I also said that I would be sharing my story in 500 words or less.
I was born at Yocum hospital in Chariton, Iowa way back in 1949. It was a hot summer day as I was told by my mother and I was almost born in the basement of our house. There were six of us in the family, my father, mother two brothers and a sister. All that are left are my sister and me. Dad ran a farm east of town but we lived in the city limits. We were a church going family. We went to mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church every Sunday and all of the holy days of obligation. During lent we attended church services every day and twice on Saturday.
I am told I was kind of a sickly child although I don't remember it that way. Whenever I get a chest x-ray they point out scarring on my left lung from several bouts of infantile pneumonia. My dad once told me they thought I might have had a mild case of polio as well but he couldn't remember if it was me or my brother.
I always looked up to my two uncles, Charles and Leo. Both were in Maryknoll, a Catholic missionary order. I really wanted to be like them but I was pretty sure I could not live up to that standard. As a child, I had to go to confession a lot and since I was in and out of sin so much, I figured my chances of becoming a priest were slim. I still wanted to make it to heaven. The bottom rung of heaven would be just fine.
My dad was a farmer and my brothers and I spent a lot of time doing the things necessary to keep a farm going. Growing up working on a farm gave me a good work ethic and also taught me that I never wanted to be a farmer.
When I was sixteen I was sent to boarding school in Illinois and that was a life altering experience. You are forced to grow up quickly at boarding school. After boarding school I went to Loras College and drifted away from going to church. Drifting is a good way to describe those years. During that time my mother died in a car accident. My mother struggled with mental illness and losing her in an accident was hard on all of us. I traveled a lot, mostly hitchhiking, and I guess you could say I had a lot of adventures. By the time I was twenty one I started doing some serious soul searching. I think that when you have a mentally ill parent you wonder about your own mental health. That is when I went to my first yoga class. One thing led to another and I hitchhiked to Cambridge, Mass. and later to West Palm Beach, Florida. By that time I was living in ashrams and I eventually ended up in India.
To be continued......
So far I have written 500 words and it is only a sketch of my first twenty two years. I have forty three years to go. I didn't even mention the time I spent in California or the summer long motorcycle trip I took with a buddy across the US. I never mentioned the angel I saw at the end of my bed while I was very sick in the infirmary at UNI.
What I realized is that I just gave you the bones of my story up until the age of twenty two and there was very little flesh on those bones. It's the meat on the bones that make the bones stick together and it takes time to flesh out any good story. The more I share my story and the more you share yours the stronger our relationship will grow.
Our bonds become stronger the more we listen to each other. The same happens the more we listen to God.
Since we are talking about relationships, at the very end of the gospel reading God says, “This is my son with whom I am well pleased.” It made me think that all too often we do not let others know how we feel. Tonight I am going to call our children and let them know how I feel.
I have been reading The Sacred Journey by Frederick Buechner. It is auto-biographical mixed with stories about other members of his family. Here is one of those stories:
My grandmother's jokes tended to have something medieval about them -heavy, wooden, with little art but made to do hard service. There was this preacher once, she says, preaching his sermon from his pulpit in his long black gown. It was such a hot day that he had put nothing on but the gown that morning and was as naked underneath as the day he was born. He got so wrought up over his sermon and was pounding and stomping around so hard up there that suddenly the platform gave way beneath him and he was pitched almost into the laps of his congregation with his black gown tossed up over his head. "May anyone who looks be struck blind!" he yelled out , and the whole congregation dutifully clapped their hands to their eyes with the exception of one old woman who let two fingers slip apart just enough for a chink to peer through. "I'll risk one eye," she said. My grandmother was that old woman.
People are born and they die but the stories live on.