We (Brookdale Covenant Church) got a thank you note this week. It’s addressed to me, but really, it’s to all of us. It’s from our denomination, signed by Donn Engebretson and Cat Knarr, thanking us for being a part of the Congo Kids 6K. Together we joined 80 other Covenant teams, 4,000 other people, and raised $340,000 for clean water. 6,800 people will gain access to clean water, and we got to help! I feel like we ought to send back a thank you note. Thanks for letting us participate! We had a ball. Thanks for letting us be a part of a hopeful solution! Thanks for letting us feel like we are actually doing something. Take a moment and imagine one of the Congo Kids looking you right in the eye and saying “Merci Mingi”, as they take a first sip of clean, cool water. (By the way, we can do it again next May 4. Are we game?) We joined in this effort, of course, because we are all connected. We are connected to our larger Covenant family here and abroad and we are connected to our Congo Kids. Someone asked me recently if I was ever going to go meet my Congo Kid. Wow, I’d never even thought of that! We are connected to God’s enormous family that spans geography and time. In church language we are referred to as “the communion of the saints”. I was reminded again of the amazing connection we have as followers of Christ on our recent family vacation out East, where Tim spent his childhood summers on Cape Cod. That’s where all his early connections with family and church and summer camp are. Then we headed north to explore coastal Maine. Book storeOne day we stumbled upon a used bookstore late in the afternoon in Northeast Harbor. We “stumbled” on this quaint Harbor town, simply by following the road we were on. Turns out, at the turn of the century it was the very elite summer vacation community of America’s most powerful and influential: people with last names like Rockefeller and Aster. You know, people not like us. The store owners were retiring after some 40 years and you know what that means: deep discounts. (Two of my favorite words.) Sometimes used bookstores are a little haphazard (a nice way of saying they are a piled up mess). This one was pristine: these were fine used books all with laminate covers and most more than a few decades out of print. I walked around the stacks and pulled a few off the shelf…most were collector editions and way out of my league, but a slender volume caught my eye: The Golden Book of Psalms and Prayers. Inside the store owner’s note said it was “published between the 1960-70’s” and that it had “annotations and original sketch by the artist-owner”. I looked at the front flyleaf: in impeccable and artistic handwriting was the book owner’s name: “Betsy F. Melcher”, who received the book as a gift from “Aunt Winifred”. I turned to the back; sure enough: an ink pen sketch of a “Pot of Red Geraniums” signed on June 10, 1975, Mt. Desert Hospital. So Ms. Melcher was in the hospital when she penned that drawing!
Sketch of Geraniums
This little book had been her companion for some time; because like me, she underlined and dated some Psalms that must have spoken deeply to her. Some of the notes were dated ’66. I paged through and was immediately struck by this: Betsy Melcher, whomever she may be, underlined many of the same Psalms I have underlined in my Bible. Connection! She dated and put little red hearts in front of prayers. These private notes hinted at the story within the story. The store owner told me she was indeed a famous local artist of some renown. You bet I bought the book.
I did my research when I got home. Born in 1900 Betsy Melcher was not just an artist. One of her portraits hangs in the Smithsonian National Gallery of Art. (And I have her little drawing of geraniums in her prayer book!) One little bit of internet sleuthing led to another. Her father was a world famous architect named Ernest Flagg. He married a cousin of the Vanderbilt family. These are people I have zero connection with!
Except for this: the communion of the saints connection. When Betsy was elderly, when she was in peril, she was lying in a hospital, reading the Psalms. The very same Psalms I read when I am struggling. The Psalms she underlined, or commented on, or drew a little heart in front of, are Psalms that I have underlined, or commented on, and have let my heart be changed by too. We both underlined: Be still and know that I am God. We both underlined: my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips when I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches…
Her translation, still in the poetry of King James, mine in the New Revised, but both of us, a generation and world apart turning our hearts over to the same God, who was and is and is to come.
This woman of substance, born in 1900 and passed 91 years later, was in possession of skills and story that are utterly different than my own. Yet, we have this timeless connection. Grass withers, flowers fade, but the Word of the Lord endures forever. We are bound in relationship with people who move in affluent circles that we only read about in history books and with little kids in the Congo, who take a sip and discover that Jesus is the living water.
I close with a prayer my new friend Betsy underlined in our little book:
We thank Thee for our deep sense of the mysteries that lie beyond our dust, and for the eyes of faith which Thou hast opened for all who believe in Thy Son. May we live altogether in Thy faith, and love, and in that hope which is full of immortality. Amen