Monday, December 5, 2011

A Quiet Love: Quiet Witness

This is the first guest post in A Quiet Love, which is the second week of the A Quiet Advent series.

About the author: Chris Brown is an organizing co-pastor of The Upper Room , a PC(USA) new church development in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA. He's also a barista at the 61C Cafe and an STM student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He blogs at Poiesis Theou and for the House of St.Michael the Archangel.

The first evangelist I ever encountered was my grandmother, Catherine, but I didn’t recognize this fact until years after she passed away.  Gram, as I called her, was a quiet and strong woman, widowed only a few months after I was born.  She was also an introvert, I’m fairly certain, a trait that showed itself in her early life’s vocation as an English teacher and her enduring love of reading.  Much of my childhood was spent at her house, playing wiffle-ball with friends her backyard, practicing for my piano lessons on her piano, and watching television on her big TV.  My games with friends and music practice delighted her, no matter how loud we were outside or how many sour notes my fingers struck on the keys.  I remember learning to play a simple version Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” on her piano. One change in notes kept sounding wrong to me and I became more and more frustrated, to the point that I started crying.  Patiently and gently she reassured me that I was playing the right notes and encouraged me to keep trying. She was simply grateful that I was learning to make music, and was more than willing to overlook any mistakes.

Gram was a woman of faith, the daughter of a Presbyterian pastor.  For many years she served my hometown church as an organist, a choir member, and a Sunday school teacher.  This explains her shock one day when she learned that I, her then middle-school-aged grandson, had never memorized Psalm 23.  I rarely went to Sunday school, and my parents rarely spoke about faith at home, so it never occurred to me as a child that there was any reason to memorize scripture.  I just thought church was what we did for an hour on Sunday mornings.  But in her quiet way Gram was always bearing witness that there was more to faith than that. 

I’m sure Gram prayed, and I believe that my present faith and vocation now are fruit of her prayers.  She never preached to me, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t proclaim gospel. In fact, she was a remarkable example of the way God uses the gifts he’s given introverts to share the good news of Christ. In her home, she created an environment of hospitality which made room for others to encounter God and each other. As she was losing her sight in her later years, she opened her home to host a support group for others with age-related macular degeneration. When I was a child, I was always welcome at her house after school, and cookies (homemade meringue and chocolate chip) were always available in plenteous supply. 

Holidays, however, are the clearest memories I have gospel hospitality at Gram’s house.  Every Christmas Eve, our family would gather at her home after the evening service at our small town’s Presbyterian church.  Once situated in her living room, we would listen to a recording made in the 1950s of my great-grandfather (Gram’s father) reading the Christmas story from Luke 2.  Those evenings were my first hint that the birth of a tiny baby in Bethlehem was cause to sing “Joy to the World.”   

Gram passed away in November of 2002. At her funeral, I read John Milton’s sonnet, “When I Consider How My Light is Spent”.  The poem expresses Milton’s frustration with his own blindness by asking whether God will require the same work of him as someone who possessed full sight.  But then comes the turn, speaking truth and reassurance: “God doth not need / Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best / Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state / Is kingly.  Thousands at his bidding speed / and post o’er land and ocean without rest: / They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Gram never tried to force faith upon me, but she did quietly plant many seeds in my life that bore fruit much later.  At times she appeared only to “stand and wait”, but she stood in faith and waited with the same hope we celebrate each Advent.  God used her patience and grace to show me proof of the story of Incarnation we heard recited every Christmas Eve.  And I will forever be grateful for the grace shown to me through her quiet love.