This morning, reading something before my eyes opened fully, I read a phrase about tomorrow's Acts passage referring to a "large sheet spread out" before us.
The text is Peter's dream, his vision or trance about a sheet being lowered from heaven covered with all sorts of animals. I love the story, but this week was the first time I looked at art portraying the sheet. Until now the image resided only in my mind.
Now I've seen this, and I've mused on the friendly faces of the stained glass animals. I've thought about the rules we set up for our communities and our own lives and the way they may structure us out of love.
It's an old story–I've told it before, I feel sure–that I once sat with the family of my friend, Paige, excited to be sitting with someone other than my people while "home" from Northern Virginia and going to church at Court Street Baptist in Portsmouth, the church of my mother, and my mother's mother and her mother, too. It's my first memory of the Communion trays being passed, and I watch what everyone does as it comes toward us down the long, curved pews in that dark, beautiful sanctuary. I watch what everyone does, and I practice in my mind how I will pick up the little piece of bread, although I don't know what it's for, exactly.
I did not excel at paying attention to the soft-spoken minister.
The tray came closer and I lifted my hand and suddenly Paige hissed, "Noooo!!!!!!!" I looked at her surprised, and more than surprised, humiliated, as she continued, "That's not for us!"
I'm not sure how long it was before I realized it was not our age that excluded us, but our lack of the key to inclusion in that community, baptism.
As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, 'Get up, Peter; kill and eat.' But I replied, 'By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.' But a second time the voice answered from heaven, 'What God has made clean, you must not call profane.' This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. (Acts 11:6-10, NRSV)
We've been watching Lost, and last night I saw some of the recent episodes for a second time. There's a scene from "Happily Ever After" that shows flash-sideways Desmond and Charlie sitting in a bar, and they have this exchange.
CHARLIE: Well, cheers then. Tell me perky, are you happy?
CHARLIE: No you're not.
DESMOND: Well, I've got a great job, lots of money, get to travel the world. Why wouldn't I be happy?
CHARLIE: Have you ever been in love?
DESMOND: Thousands of times.
CHARLIE: That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about spectacular, consciousness-altering love. Do you know what that looks like?
DESMOND: I wasn't aware that love looked like anything.
CHARLIE: I've seen it, mate. On the plane back from Sydney.
DESMOND: Is that so? Well we were on the same flight, so…maybe I saw it too.
CHARLIE: Trust me, you didn't.
Peter's vision altered his consciousness. It altered his mind and his heart, and he came to understand that this love Jesus instructed the disciples to show for one another (see the companion reading in John 13) belonged to more than just the people the rules tell us to love.
'What God has made clean, you must not call profane.'
When I was in seminary, I made a lot of rules for myself, about how to balance my call to God and my call to being a mother. I spent a lot of time condemning myself for having ambition. That's not to say I didn't have it! I still do, though I think my sense of what would be a successful expression of my call is less about climbing a professional ladder and more about faithful use of my gifts for ministry. But it's never entirely clear, not for me. I always worry that I will reach my hand out and hear the hissed, "Noooo," this time from some cosmic voice.
That's why I'm glad to have an antidote for my anxiety in the person of Peter, the beautiful example of how many times we can course correct on the faith journey.
When I read the quoted line above this morning, this is how I saw it:
"A large Spreadsheet out" before us.
My current search, wider than any I've undertaken before, is recorded on a spreadsheet. It's columns describing when I sent my profile and when I received one from a church and when there was a phone call, all attempting to organize what really cannot be organized. When the connection is the right one, there will be love and certainty, and the bread will be shared by all.