It is a peculiar notion, utterly absurd yet irresistible and stunning.
At a recent Eucharist, my wandering mind suddenly latched onto the proposition proclaimed just about every Sunday, but rarely considered, at least by me — that I am worshipping with a veritable heavenly host:
The Assumption of the Virgin by Francesco Botticini
“Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven, who for ever sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of your Name…”
Could it really be that our voices join with those of Seraphim and Cherabim, of some divine dimension of the Unseen? Contemplating such celestial choirs led me to some deeper thinking (always a dangerous prospect) about the different “voices” of God.
Throughout history, humankind has believed God speaks to us not only through holy scripture, but through fire and rain, the human touch, music and the arts, literature and liturgy. Only recently in this ongoing and unfolding love story has the Almighty revealed glimpses of Mystery and Glory and Divine Love through the use of vanity license plates.
Several years ago, I was driving around Charlotte one Saturday morning, seething over some minor spat with a family member, cursing myself and all my shortcomings. A car passed by, and I glanced at its license plate. It read, “URWATUR.”
I smiled, being reminded that indeed, for better or worse, “I am what I am.” I thought back to a story told by Frederick Buechner, who wrote he was once rescued from utter despair (in the midst of his daughter’s near-fatal anorexia) when he happened to see the word “TRUST” on a license plate. It came precisely, he says, at a moment when he desperately needed to simply trust God’s Providence.
He later discovered the car’s owner to be a trust officer at a local bank, but as he asks, does that really matter?
More and more, I’ve come to accept that Buechner is right when he observes that how we respond to these “little” moments determines a great deal of how we live our lives. Do we write them off as some silly bit of happenstance? Or do we seize them, and grasp the memory of them, time and again, like driftwood in a stormy sea?
Most of us, I suspect, do a bit of both.
Again, I smiled and chuckled to myself as the car drove on. I thought, “OK, Lord, yes, I promise. I’ll lighten up a little.” The very next car passed by. Its license plate shone back at me: “GRACE2U.”
Soon after that little encounter was Transfiguration Sunday, which always is the last Sunday after Epiphany, right before Ash Wednesday and the forty days of Lent. I’m not saying my little encounter was quite the same as seeing Jesus in blinding white with Moses and Elijah up on a mountaintop. Nor can I speculate as to whether my reaction to being shown such mysterious Grace even comes close to that of Peter, James and John. All I know is that I even my most cynical “rational” lawyer-self cannot dismiss such things out of hand.
Mountaintop visions. Angels and Archangels. Vanity license plates.
“Heaven only knows” what what I experienced that morning. Was it another manifestation of “The Voice of God,” or just two random drivers trying to get by my slow moving vehicle? What I can say is that it has stuck with me, and that sometimes I just have to go with what I have, choosing to believe on my better days that it’s not just simply “what I got” but also blessfully what I’ve been given.