Four Stars

To say the least, this is a very confusing time of year. The weather flip flops back and forth, from sunny and 70 degrees one day to 30 and snowing the next. One evening you can grill and eat outside, then you're shivering again under the quilt. The plants and birds and insects appear disoriented, at times, though they never seem to give up. Look down at the small shoots coming out of the ground, and on the days they're surrounded by snow, they seem to sort of sit there patiently, knowing the warmth will come eventually.

The whole Easter thing, too, seems to be a little perplexing. There's a lot of skepticism. It's much easier for most of us to default to a celebration surrounding dyed eggs, delicious lamb and a giant bunny who delivers candy to every single kid in America because, for sure, believing that a guy was nailed to a cross, put in a cave and then came back from the dead and returned to work a few days later is not an easy thing to do. 

It takes a rich imagination. And a sense of humor. And a desire to believe that we are not alone on this walk through the wilderness called life.

  O'Brien Easter, 1970. 

O'Brien Easter, 1970. 

A couple of weeks ago I made a little pilgrimage to the church in Albany where my Great Uncle John had been a priest for 25 years. One of the two people I found there on a quiet Sunday afternoon remembered him from when she was a little girl in the 30s. "Everyone loved him," she told me, "I remember him out walking around the neighborhood. They named the ball field for him. My brothers loved playing baseball there....He was a great man...I give him four stars."

Four stars. I loved so much that she rated him using a star system that I didn't bother to ask out of how many.

After our chat I wandered around inside the sanctuary for a while. It was big and fancy: lots of marble, cathedral ceilings, a giant pipe organ; cavernous. I stood in the pulpit and imagined Father Fearey delivering his sermons; I ran my hand across the ornate tabernacle. I sat in a pew and asked my long-deceased uncle to help me understand why I feel like I'm being called to ministry today. I asked him to walk with me down this unexpected, scary and curious road.

It felt nice to be back inside a Catholic church. I was reminded of the things I loved in those spaces, as a kid: the candles flickering, the lingering smell of incense, the stained glass. The orderliness of the pews, the feeling that it was a sacred space carved out of an uncertain and chaotic world. I'm pretty sure those are some of the things that are tugging at my heartstrings as I navigate my walk toward church ministry. In some ways it comes as a complete surprise that God seems to be sheparding me toward a churchly life, and in others it's not a surprise at all. The longing has been there, I'm certain, since I made my debut here almost 49 years ago. We are all, after all, unceasingly seeking some version of home, aren't we?

Believe whatever you want to believe, is what I say, but do believe in something. Wrap your heart around some kind of transcendent notion while you're here. Seek up, as Mr. Dave Matthews has said. With any luck someone will award you with four stars one day, too.