This is a reflection from Good Friday 2012. My friend Coffee is now 93 and a half. Her vision and hearing are getting worse, but she still came to my second grade daughter's school musical this week. I am so thankful to know her and that she let me share this experience with you all. May the joy of walking with the ressurrected Lord fill you with peace and hope!
I sat alone in cool darkness on a folding lawn chair in a little patch of woods that we call our Gethsemane, the place where each year members of our community hold an all night prayer vigil between Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. I chose the dawn shift. Night shadows crept away as morning’s light helped me to discern the shapes of leaves, the trees in the distance, the small bodies of birds whose songs filled the air. I heard quiet footsteps moving slowly along the path and then I saw her form, small and slightly stooped, using her cane for balance, approaching the garden. It was my friend Coffee, the oldest member of our community. She settled into the other creaky old lawn chair beside me for the last hour of prayer before “Peter,” one of our community volunteers would end our vigil by describing to a gathered crowd how he felt and all that happened that night. We smiled but didn’t exchange words, honoring the sacred quiet that had been nurtured by our friends through the night.
Though my mouth was closed, my eyes were prayerfully open that dawn. I regarded her ninety-two and a half year old frame in the rickety chair and saw that she did not, like me, look like someone who just rolled out of bed and stumbled into the darkness. She had taken the time, at dawn, to independently shower and wash her hair and dress for the day. Her hair, still damp and clinging to her scalp made her look more delicate than she usually appears to me when her hair is dry and frames her head in a cottony cloud of white. She grabbed at her head and huffed at herself for not taking the time to dry her hair or even bring a hat.
At this point I could no longer simply close my eyes and return to inner silence. This time of prayer required loving action. I looked under tarps for the blankets that were not there. They had been taken inside by others when April showers briefly wet the night. I wrapped my orange scarf around her head and told her I would be back. My 33 year old legs were nimble and full of life. I took no notice of the roots and stones and slight dips and rises in the terrain as I hurried out of the woods. The path that had been lit by tin can luminaria whose candles had expired in the night led me to the community library where I found heaps of crocheted Afghans. I grabbed an armload of blankets, carried my light and easy load back across the dewy grass and returned to the thicket where I found Coffee reading the Bible. I draped her shoulders in purple and blue and her lap was warmed with orange and brown. She offered to give me back the scarf on her head but I insisted that she keep it on her still damp head. I was warm from the run and thankful for the blanket on my own lap and the crisp air on my neck as we sat together in prayer. I was thankful to be sitting beside my friend who had become regal - wrapped in the colors of heaven and earth.
Coffee would scoff if she heard me describe her in this way. As a preacher’s daughter, Christian educator, long-term missionary in Korea, and a decades long member of intentional Christian communities she has spent nearly a century cloaked in humility and service. She has shared with our community that the biggest challenge in aging is the struggle of not feeling useful and of being a burden to others. Though she no longer has any official jobs in our community, the one thing she does faithfully is come to morning prayer at 8AM Monday through Friday. My husband and I come when we can but the pressing needs of children and work make it a challenging discipline to keep in this season of life. Each morning she faithfully wraps up beloved ones in prayer and offers them to God’s tender care. She takes seriously the work of prayer and our community and countless others are better for it.
Soon a small crowd had gathered and we waited expectantly in silence for Peter to come. A college-aged man ran in with a towel pinned over his clothes like a toga and told his harrowing account of that last night with Jesus. After he gave his dramatic speech and hurried away for fear of capture we all scattered away from our imagined Gethsemane back into the present time and space. I could have walked away alone at my normal hurried pace, but instead I chose to walk at Coffee’s pace. The topography of the field from her point of view zoomed into my focus. She held my arm in one hand and her cane in the other as she commented. “My, this is quite a hill for me,” she paused to catch her breath, “But, Jesus’ path was steeper….and he had to carry a cross too. That is something to think about.”
Later that day I found my orange scarf neatly folded in my mailbox with a short note of thanks. I wondered if she even knew what a gift she had given to me that morning. Did she know what a blessing it was that I could offer her comfort in a place where Jesus had received none, that I could be a faithful friend to her in a place where Jesus’ friends thought only of themselves; that I could, in a simple physical gesture, offer to her the comfort and peace that she daily offers to loved ones through her prayer and presence; that in her moment of need, and I am sure there will be more in the years to come, she brought me closer to the Kingdom of Heaven.