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  • Writer's pictureJeff Conway

O Happy Day - Listening for God

The fire was started outside the church just as the sky was turning from pink to the color of burning embers against charred logs. There was no panic, for two altar boys opened a book of liturgy and the priest began to speak. The reflection was on a life that had been given. A Light taken away from us all. The fire ablaze outside the church was a symbol of the returning of the Light of the world. This was the beginning of the Easter Vigil at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church on Capital Hill.

After the priest's call to gather for worship, we lit our candles from the fire and entered the sanctuary that had been darkened since Good Friday, the day we turn an uncomfortable eye towards the cross and the death of Jesus. The shimmer of the lighted candles made the golden stars painted on the midnight blue ceiling dance with mystery. We were no longer reflecting on the pain but entering the sanctuary with thanksgiving for the triumph and joy of Christ’s resurrection.

With each reading of the liturgy, the lighting in the sanctuary slowly arose with a gentle dawning. As the numerous readings began with the Scriptural account of creation they ended with the narrative of the resurrection. Drama. Worship is celebrating the drama of the redemptive chronicle of humanity; God’s full transaction of love. Worship is being called by God to come and worship, hear the Word that God has for us, respond to that Word with hymns, songs, and prayers, and leave the sanctuary continuing our worship as we bring God’s love to the world.

We attended this special Easter Vigil service in Washington D.C. because our son, Barrett, was uniting with the Catholic Church. It was a double celebration. Giving thanks to God for God’s enduring love. And, giving thanks to God for Barrett’s continued close journey with God.

Since Barrett was a child, he has had a special way that his face shines delight. It’s not so much in his smile, but in his cheeks and his eyes.

The summer before Barrett turned five years old, two of the neighbor girls who babysat for him were outside playing as I was starting to show him how to balance on his new little bike. They asked if they could take him to the park around the corner to teach him how to ride. I said, “Sure,” thinking he would be returning home in frustration and maybe some tears. About fifteen minutes later he came riding around the corner in complete control of the bike. “Hey, I was supposed to teach him how to ride. That was my role,” I thought with a pang of pain. But there he was. Those cheeks and eyes displaying his pride and joy.

It was that same look twenty-five years later as he stood in front of the church reaffirming his confession of faith; joy and delight as he united with the congregation of St. Joseph’s.

Joseph, St. Joseph as the Roman Catholics would call him, is not someone I have reflected on often. Probably just quick references in the Christmas season and maybe a sermon or two over my thirty-five years of preaching. We know so little about him from Scripture, but what we do know is powerful. Pope Francis has had a statue of sleeping Joseph on his desk for years. He brought it with him from Argentina when he became Pope. Sleeping seems so passive but there is nothing passive about the sleeping Joseph. It was in Joseph’s sleep that God spoke to him; how God spoke to him about his part in the account of humanity’s redemption.

All of us, as part of God’s family, are called to allow our hearts and minds to a place of rest and openness which enables us to discern God’s thoughts from the world’s thoughts; God’s thoughts from our own thoughts. In the simple act of restfulness God can and will speak to us in powerful ways. Learning to rest our minds is a long process for most of us. A great way to start is sitting in silence for five to ten minutes each day. No music. No sounds of busyness. Certainly no television. Begin to learn to quiet the busyness of your mind. This is a practice that goes back to the early church. People at that time did not have the obvious noise that surrounds us, but they were just like us with busy brains filled with many thoughts. The journey to Jesus is unique, beautiful, and mysterious for each of us, through all of the generations. Begin to practice listening.

On Easter weekend we gathered with other family members in D.C., enjoyed the cherry blossoms and spring warmth. We enjoyed great food, fine wine, and wonderful community. We laughed, we cried. We weren’t just parents and children, we were family: part of the family of God.

He is risen. He is risen indeed.

I invite you each to walk out of the physical sanctuary and bring the Love-us-Jesus (so, so needed) into the world together.

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About Jeff


I've always been a fish out of water (and I love fish). From being an artist in a sports family, to a Christian who leans into the mystery of God while still trained in a Word-centered mainline tradition, and now a person in a wheelchair amongst able-bodied hikers, my life has perpetually been outside the box (or bowl). 

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