September 13, 2016

A Carpenter's Gift

Commemorations and TV specials marked the 15[1] anniversary of 9/11. I know many priests, including my own, preached stirring sermons. At my church, we also experienced the words of the sermon come to life.

The day before we had a special delivery. Our congregation is building a columbarium in the chapel, and many folks have come together to work on various components. The contributions of these parishioners are wonderful. But the gift of one person is changing me, changing us.

The delivery was an altar table made of black walnut with maple inlays. This altar table will hold the Book of Remembrance and be a place of prayer and reflection. I suspect it will catch many tears and be a support when grieved knees crumble. The grains of the wood offer a mirror for grief: some light patches next to the dark ones, knots rubbed smooth now but evidence of how they changed the growth of the one-time trees. Different pieces of wood placed together to create a masterpiece.

The table is gorgeous but the real beauty is in the maker: a Muslim man who offered his gifts of carpentry for free. He hopes the table will be a symbol of how two faiths can work together, a reminder that even in the bleakest of times, there is hope.

This man is a co-worker and friend of a parishioner but he doesn’t live in our town. He doesn’t know anyone else at the church. He had no other motivation but kindness and love.

And his gift is—must be—anonymous, he asks. He didn’t craft his masterpiece for attention. He didn’t extend this gracious gift for accolades. He simply wanted it to be a quiet but lasting symbol of how much stronger we are together, of how love wins when we let it.

The work between Muslims and Christians isn’t done, of course. In fact, another reason for the anonymity is that the man worries about backlash from his fellow Muslims and other Christians. A Muslim making an altar table for a Christian house of worship? This could get some people in a lather. Terrible things have happened for lesser reasons.

Across the table are the words from our burial liturgy, when we beseech God to “let light perpetual shine upon them.” This unexpected gift from an unexpected place will be a beacon in our congregation and beyond of how God works wonders and changes hearts, if only we let in the light.

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