[NPR, "All Things Considered," June 6, 1996]
Michael’s been gone about a month now, and we miss him. In a small church like ours, you need everybody. Now the choir’s down to just one bass, and the other Sunday School teachers have to do double duty. At the same time we’re happy for Michael, even proud. Our little church started just three years ago, and we’re almost all converts—some from various denominations, some from no faith at all. Michael was one of the few who’d actually grown up Eastern Orthodox. When he announced he wanted to join Holy Cross Monastery in the shadow of Sugarloaf Mountain, we felt somehow honored.
After the Easter service, Michael’s parents gave him their blessing, in choked-up voices muffled by hugs. It seemed strange the next Sunday to see his place in the choir empty. The following week, my friend Jeannie brought in a big piece of posterboard for everyone to sign. My 16-year-old son wrote, "Take care of that beard"—a long beard and ponytail are typical of Orthodox monks. My 14-year-old son wrote, "Make God proud."
Like most of us, Michael’s life had its ups and downs. As his faith grew deeper, his path straightened out. But he wasn’t a plaster saint; he was a plumber. Maybe your plumber. After a day of snaking pipes he would come home from work to paint icons and read the Bible. At our church, devotion like Michael’s isn’t unusual. We all read the Bible, pray and fast, and many attend services several times a week. Yet to all appearances we’re normal folks.
Michael’s story makes me think about the invisibility of fervent faith in our culture. Sure, you can read a news story about a movie star who’s a Buddhist, or witty scholars debating what Jesus did or didn’t say. But people like Michael—everyday people leading lives of prayer and devotion—as far as you can tell, they don’t exist.
It seems like in the movies, when someone pulls out a Bible it’s a clue that he’s a creep, a crank, or worse. On the other hand, heroic lead characters go through desperate situations (for example, fending off Bible-spouting lunatics) without ever stopping to call on God’s help. The message is: anybody who takes God seriously is a dangerous kook.
But that’s a stereotype which is both unkind and untrue. You already know that, because you know us. We’re everywhere, though we seem invisible. We’re your doctor, your realtor, the guy who runs the corner grill. When Michael left for the monastery grounds, plenty of us remained behind, to bring the steady influence of our faith to our everyday worlds.This is one of the reasons we could let him go.