Sacred Presence and Sunday Gravy


(The topic of fullness and emptiness wasn’t meant to be a two-part blog, but by definition fullness doesn’t fit in one short post.  As I contemplated the ways in which I’ve been practicing emptying these last few weeks, one story I couldn’t leave it behind.)

A few weeks ago, one of our houseguests was  an old Navy buddy of my husband’s. They joined the same A-6 Intruder squadron in 1988 and made two cruises together aboard the  USS Kennedy, the last one being the 1991 Gulf War where they served in combat together.  We’ve known this friend almost all of our adult lives.  He and my husband, at first glance, could not appear more different.  My husband, Guice, is Southern born and bred, reserved and temperate, and cooks dinner by calling Papa John’s or taking me out.  Charlie is an Italian New Yorker who lights up a room with his story-telling and laughter, and goes all out on most everything he does, especially cooking!  

As part of his cross-country motorcycle trip, Charlie set aside a few days to spend with us in Alabama after visiting the West Coast and before heading to the Gulf Coast.  Though he and Guice appear to quite different, they share a love of Harley Davidson’s, Bugs Bunny, and Alabama football.  They love their United States Navy comrades and love their country.  I relish being around the two of them together. I see sides of my husband from those earliest years of our marriage that only come out when Charlie is around. He has a way of pulling the stories up and out  that we haven’t heard from Guice.   Our children can’t believe their dad has such a cool friend!  

So what does that have to do with my “Make Me Like My Dog” blog series and the topic of fullness and making space?   Charlie spent three days and nights with us. For me, that meant preparing a clean bed and a bathroom for him, a cleared off chair, and a space to put his clothes in an spare bedroom. It meant moving my car out and letting him park his beautiful new Harley  in my one-car porte cochére. It meant making some space on our calendar for dining in or eating out with a guest, instead of a bowl of Cheerios in front of the TV.    

In exchange for making room and opening the door and clearing the calendar, we were delighted by his presence in our home for three days.  He lingered over coffee and shared stories with me in the morning.  He and Guice rode their bikes to the Talladega Speedway in the afternoon. We dined on Mexican food and talked theology one night and over pizza and beer and talked football the next. We retold some favorite old stories and he told a few new ones.  He spent a day teaching me to make meatballs and “Sunday Gravy” and homemade manicotti. I learned you have to play Sinatra on Spotify while you do it!  We made so much we invited friends over to share the Italian feast and I still put a 9x13 full of manicotti and 6 quarts of meatballs and gravy in the freezer for later.  When he left, I had food cooked to eat and to share for weeks to come. 

Near the time of Charlie’s visit, I’d been reading a book on Benedictine hospitality.  (If you’ve read my blog for very long, you know I’ve spent some time with the monks and love a monastery retreat!) One of the hallmarks of Benedictine hospitality is “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt 25:35).   Though I’ve known this a long time, I’ve can’t say I’ve every actually asked myself:  What are my houseguests bringing me of Christ?  How was Jesus coming to me in the person of Charlie?  

Go back and read that paragraph on cooking and eating and story-telling  and music and laughter and my freezer full of Sunday Gravy to eat and share when he left.  

There’s a story in Mark 6 in which Jesus does very few miracles because he’s in his own hometown and the people can’t really believe he is anything other than “the carpenter, James’ brother…Mary’s son.”  The Scripture says he was appalled by their disbelief.   I’m wondering if disbelief is like a closed door, a full house, a place where there is no room to receive Jesus as He is. Unbelief is like a crowded room.   You can’t come in, Lord, because I don’t have room in my life. I’ve already filled my mind with my ideas of who you are. I’ve made my own image of You so there’s no invitation, no open space,  to show me more. 

Charlie’s visit has me thinking just how worthwhile it is to make space in my life, to open my heart and my mind to receiving Jesus, to continually making room for him to bring his presence, joy, and overflowing abundance - like “Sunday Gravy”  -into my life. 

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