Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Man at the Back of the Church

It happened one beautiful spring Sunday morning when the daffodils were blooming, the grass was an emerald green, and the sun was shining brightly with its magnificent golden rays.  It is also an experience I will remember for a lifetime.
The church was a little country church that sits in a valley.  It had a large steeple which held the huge bell that rang when the services were about to begin.  Under the steeple were the double doors that welcomed its visitors into the comfortable interior of pews which faced the small stage at the front.  There was one isle down the middle of the pews.  The sun shined through the beautiful stained glass windows on each side of the church walls and cast a wonderment of colors over the sanctuary.
I was sitting near the front and it was a good Sunday attendance with people filling most all the pews except the very back two.  Pastor Drew was really into his sermon and had everyone’s rapt attention.  
Suddenly, a man walked in the back door.  Out of normal curiosity, people began turning around to see who would walk in so late.  What they saw shocked even the most liberal of churchgoers.  The man had long, shoulder length brown hair, a beard and mustache, his clothing was a long, dark, purple robe, and he wore brown sandals on his feet!  The man stood for a moment looking around and then quietly took a seat in a pew at the back of the church.
Murmurs and whispers were heard as people wondered why this street vagrant would walk into their church.  Others wondered where he came from and why he would even show up in their little town.  Old Mrs. Simmons, the church gossip, was being sure to take everything in so she could let all the ladies in the church group know exactly what went on this Sunday morning.  Children snickered and a few pointed at ‘that man.’
Pastor Drew noticed, too, and seeing the way he was dressed caused him to stutter over his words, but he was able to compose himself rather quickly.  Actually, inside he smiled as he thought it was wonderful that this man felt comfortable enough to walk in as he was.  Heaven forbid, though, that he let any of the church people know so he decided to keep these thoughts to himself.  To get everyone’s attention again, he THUNDERED his voice, and sure enough, people began to turn their attention back onto him.
Through all this, the man at the back of the church sat quietly listening to the sermon as if it were the most natural thing in the world to come in off the street, walk into a strange church, and sit down.
After things quieted down, my curiosity began to get the best of me, so I slowly turned around to look at this strange man.  He seemed so content, and his eyes…. There was something about his eyes.  I didn't mean to stare, but I just couldn't stop watching him.  Suddenly, he turned his gaze towards me and he smiled.  Not a big smile, but just enough to let me know that he knew I was watching him.  Again, those eyes.  They were so full of love, peace, and compassion.  I felt myself being drawn towards him like I was in some sort of trance.
Finally, I couldn't stand it any longer.  I slowly got up from my seat and walked towards this man at the back of the church.  When I got to him, he quietly stood up to let me sit next to him.  He looked at me, smiled that smile again, and then he turned his attention back to the preacher.  I did the same, and we sat like this for the rest of the service.
When the service was over, people got up from their seats and began walking back the isle to leave the church.  The man and I just sat there as people stared and whispered when they walked by us.  Not one person greeted this man, nor welcomed him to our church.  All along, the man just sat there and didn't seem uncomfortable at all.  I had the feeling it had happened to him so many times before that he was used to it.
When every last person had shook hands with the preacher and had left the building, the man stood up and began walking out the door with me following in his footsteps.  When he came to the preacher, he took the preacher's hand in both of his and quietly said, "It was a nice sermon.  Don't be so concerned about what other people think.  Say what comes from your heart."  At that, he left.  I gave the preacher a quick shake of the hand and followed after the man.
I didn't know where he was going, but I kept a silent pace beside him.  I wasn't afraid at all.  I just felt I had to be near this man, speak to him, find out what he was about, but I was apprehensive about speaking.  I didn't know what to say.
We found a country path that led into the woods and began following it.  I knew I was taking a chance walking into the dense trees with a man I didn't know, but still, I followed.  Finally, in a meek voice, I asked him, "Sir, may I ask your name?"  In a quiet voice, he answered, "My name is Jesus."  I just had to ask, didn't I?  I mean, who else would he claim to be dressed the way he was.  For some reason, though, I didn't disbelieve him.
We walked a ways more when he quietly asked, "Do you believe that I am Jesus?"  My goodness, what was I to say?  I didn't want him to think I thought he was just some nut that happened into our part of the woods.  What if he really was Jesus?  I thought for a moment on how best to answer this and replied, "I won't say that you're NOT Jesus."
A few moments went by and the man didn't say any more.  If he really was Jesus, there was so much I wanted to ask him, to talk to him about.  But if he was just some guy who thought he was Jesus, then I'd be making a real fool of myself asking him all my innermost, sacred questions.  Then I got to thinking…  What did I have to lose?  No one would know I was asking him these things.  This was just one chance I could not pass up.
"Please forgive me for doubting.  You have to understand that there are hundreds of people all over the world who claim to be you.  How are we to know if one of them was really you?  Or if you're really you now?  Why did you come here to our church today?"  He replied, "I visit many churches around the world." 
I continued.  "You know, there's one thing I've always wanted to ask you.  There are millions of people on this earth with just as many different beliefs and thousands of different religions, how are we to know which one is right or wrong?"
Slowly, he said, "The important thing is, what do you believe?"
"But how do I know if what I believe is right?  What am I supposed to believe?  Everyone is always telling me I should believe their way.  Even with the Bible, it seems that everyone has a different interpretation of what it says and means, and each says that their interpretation is the only right one.  It can all be pretty confusing." 
He glanced at me for a moment and replied, "Trust your own heart.  Your own faith.  The Spirit that is within you.  Besides, fighting and arguing sort of defeats the purpose of why I came to begin with.  I came to teach unconditional love and for you to be the greatest expressions of who you were meant to be.”
We were both silent for a few moments as we continued walking up the path to a large, open meadow surrounded by trees.  The meadow was filled with the most beautiful yellow and purple flowers.  I noticed that as we walked, everything seemed to be so much more alive and beautiful. It could have been my imagination, but I could swear that animals of all kinds were peeking their heads out of the bushes to watch him go by.
"Sir, why do people judge each other so much?  They judge the way people look, the way they dress, the way they live, the way they believe…  Just because someone believes differently or has different opinions…."
He seemed to contemplate this for a moment and answered, "People judge what they don't understand because it is easier than to love, to have compassion and understanding.  People fear the unknown so they wrap themselves in their beliefs like they would a blanket, to protect themselves and their feelings.  It makes them feel safe that what they believe is the right way.”
We stood in the clearing for a few moments just enjoying the breathtaking sight before us.  My mind was going a mile a minute trying to think of things I wanted to ask this man, but at the moment, I couldn't think straight, so I just stood there enjoying being in his presence.
A few minutes passed when I happened to look down and found a beautiful little flower that seemed to stand out among the rest, so I bent down away from the man to pick it out from the blanket of color it rested in.  While my back was to the man, he spoke to me.
"Karen, there is one thing that I want you to remember.  I will always love you, no matter what.  Remember this always."
Just as he finished speaking, I stood and turned to give him the flower, but he was gone!  I looked around to see if he had wandered off, but he was nowhere to be seen!  He couldn't have gone off into the woods that quickly.  I stood there stunned, wondering what happened to him, how he could have disappeared so fast.  There was only one explanation, one that I was almost afraid to admit, but hoped that it would be so.
I really didn't want my time with him to end.  There was so much more I wanted to ask him.  Not knowing what to do, I sat down where he last stood and smelled the flower I had picked for him moments earlier.  I don't know how long I sat there.  The first I noticed that it might be getting late was when I felt a chill from the evening air as the sun started to go down.  I felt like I could sit there forever, but I knew it was time to go home.  As I stood, I looked around again and then began walking back towards the church.
Thoughts continued to run through my mind as I thought about what had happened to me that day.  Was the man I spoke to really Jesus?  Or was he just a man off the street who thought he was?  Or was it all just a dream?  I will probably never know the answer to these questions.
I do know that I will not deny that I met Jesus and spent some time with him.  But I also know that I don't think I am going to tell people that I actually met and spoke with him.  No, I think that this will be an experience that I will keep for myself.  My very special secret.  A secret that has changed my life forever.

Published in the Putnam County Visions magazine November 2014 issue.

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