He was a black man and he could recite entire chapters of the Scripture, and this is what he did while teaching in this Muskoka chapel in his booming and prophetic voice.
Some of us could barely rub two notes together, but by the end of the week he also had us all sounding like the Brooklyn Tabernacle choir.
When you sat beside him at the lunch table – his name was Bernie but he was known as Boom Boom — it was like you were in the presence of a Moses or Elijah, so that if he prayed for rain, you were sure it would fall, and if he asked for drought, the rain would stop. And the best you could do would be to ask him to pass a hamburger and then keep your hand from shaking when he gave it to you.
So when at the end of that week of camp, so many years ago now, he offered himself to anyone who wanted to talk about anything, I took the offer. I was young and living on my own and in some pain as it related to a broken relationship with my father which, while not unusual for many sons, bothered me enough to seek advice.
I was already through some school and happily employed as a young reporter, but as far as my father was concerned it was all for naught because, some years earlier, I had left home on an early morning bus without his blessing. I was a Prodigal and had to return to the point of departure – his home apparently, but this was always left unclear – and then somehow start again, fresh, before I could have any hope at any success or peace. At least this is how he saw it.
I’m not sure he was right, and I doubt Boom Boom did either, but this holy man at this camp called Crossroads, advised me to do this exact thing, to dismantle whatever I was building and return home and put myself under my father’s authority for a period of time so that my father’s heart would be changed when he saw that mine was.
I shared this advice with friends who knew me rather well, all of whom said no, don’t do it, don’t go, it doesn’t make any sense. And while I couldn’t help but agree, I still struggled with it for some time. What makes sense is not always the best choice, after all. If it was, we’d never know plenty of good things, not the least of which is knowing God in human form.
In the end, I chose not to return home, at least not with my suitcase in hand. I chose to continue to put one foot in front of the other in my new life as a young man finding my way. But even in my honest wrestling, I learned something. And as the years went by and I married and my own children came into the picture and my relationship with my aging father changed for the better, I learned a few more things.
Maybe what I learned most is that sometimes you can’t go back even when you want to. You can’t divorce yourself from yesterday any more than the earth can reverse its course around the sun. What you can do is simply live with it all, with your decisions, with whatever good or harm they may have brought.
And then you find the grace to live in today, this day, this moment, for it’s in this moment where God’s grace resides. And in this there is both wonder and healing.
I rarely imagine how my life might have been different had I taken the advice of that prophet at Crossroads. But sometimes, like today, when I’m in this same Muskoka chapel again, I do.
Then my young son puts his head on my lap. And I put my hand on his head. And everything else is just a fleeting memory. And it’s, as they say, all good. Even with the hard stuff – it’s all good.
No, because of the hard stuff, it’s better than just good. It’s all the sweeter.