All This And Heaven, Too!
When I arrived at Trinity Church, DeLand, Florida, in 1972 as the spiffy, new, fresh-out-of-seminary Associate Pastor, I heard people say good things about a former Senior Pastor named Jim Rowan who had left an indelible mark on the life of that congregation. As time went by, I watched his joy-filled, faith-centered, thoughtful leadership in the Conference and in the churches he served. He was a leader among the “greatest generation” of Methodist preachers in Florida and a model for ministry for my generation.
Yesterday I attended his Memorial Service at First Church, Lakeland, where he served for eleven years and from which he retired in 1991. He was ninety years old.
Jim’s daughter, Jana, whom I knew as a teenager at the youth camp, spoke for the family. She talked about the way her father could find exuberant joy in little things, like boiled peanuts, fresh oranges, or new socks on Christmas morning. His face would light up with his day-brightening smile and he’d say, “All this and Heaven, too!” Sometimes he would ask it as a rhetorical question of utter amazement over little things: “All this? And Heaven, too?”
Stumbling Toward Seventy
Those words resonated with a passage I had just read in a book of essays by Marilyn Robinson, whose novel, Gilead, won the Pulitzer Prize. In contrast to her novels, The Givenness of Things is heavy reading. I often had to read a passage several times to let it sink it, but it was worth the effort.
She said something surprising happened as she turned seventy. That caught my attention because just having turned sixty-nine, I can see it on the horizon. She described it as “some ticking upward of pleasure and intensity that is really not what I had been led to expect.”
She said the things in which she takes pleasure have not changed, but “they are all refreshed.” Then she wrote:
I know my life is drawing to an end. The strangeness of life on earth first of all, and then of everything that takes my attention, is very moving to me now. It feels freshly seen, like a morning that is exceptional only for the atmosphere it has of utter, unimpeachable newness, no matter how many times old Earth has tottered around the sun.
I really expected to feel older than I feel right now. Most of the time, I still feel like one of the youngest guys in the room, though I know the calendar (and the receding hair line) prove differently. Caring for my soon-to-be 95 year old mother is more than enough evidence of just how difficult the aging process can be. Old age isn’t for wimps!
But facing that reality, I’d also like to experience “some ticking upward of pleasure and intensity” in the things that continue to bring pleasure, laughter, love and grace into my life. In stark contrast to all of the negative, divisive and mean-spirited stuff in our culture today, I’d like to be a little more like Marilyn Robinson, with eyes open to the “utter, unimpeachable newness” of each day. I’d like to be more like Jim Rowan, always grateful for small pleasures, always aware that we are given, as an undeserved gift, all this and Heaven, too.
Grace and peace,