Horace is walking down the hallway in his home, as he does several times a day when he goes between bedroom and kitchen, and he stops for a moment to look at the wall of family photographs. There are the old, faded sepia pictures taken on the front porch of a rickety home in East Kentucky, right next to the brightly colored modern photos of children playing in the park. Maybe he’s drawn to them on this particular Sunday afternoon because his grandson Will is set to graduate from college next week. He looks at a recent picture of that young man, playing the keyboard in a band, head thrown back in song, or maybe it’s laughter. On the other end of the photo arrangement is an image of Horace’s grandfather Gus (it’s amazing how he and Will resemble each other), about the same age in the picture as Will in his. There isn’t a hint of laughter in Gus’s visage. Horace remembers his grandfather as strict, very religious, a man who didn’t countenance dancing, card playing or alcohol. “Be in the world, not of the world,” he would say when he took the set of Old Maid cards away from the grandchildren on the porch.
And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world…
They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world…
As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world… [all quoted from John 17]
At church this morning, John 17 had been the gospel reading, and it took Horace’s mind back to his grandfather. Gus was strict, but he loved his family and cared about the world, the earth. He’d taught his grandchildren, both boys and girls, to work hard on the farm when they spent long weeks there in the summer. They learned to get in the hay, to drive the tractor, to cut tobacco. It was tiring, but they all loved it. And after supper every evening, Gus would pull out his banjo and play it on the porch that’s in that photo. Never gospel music, it was music that seemed to spring from the farm, the hills, and a soul that was fuller than Horace could imagine back then.
Now Horace thinks about his grandfather and his grandson. Both making their way in the world in their own fashion, in such incredibly different cultures. Both spiritual, but in remarkably different ways and with different expressions of their spirituality. Both loving men, sensing some importance of their place in the world—one on the farm; one starting a career in business. Both playing their souls out in music.
In the world—yes. Gus touched the earth every day of his life and realized the connection between farmer and community. Will connects with hundreds of people daily on the college campus and in his job coop, some of them in person and some electronically, recognizing a worldwide community.
But belonging to the world? Gus thought he knew the answer to this seeming conundrum posed in Jesus’ prayer: stay away from things his culture considered sin. Even so, he reached out to others in his community who were quite different from him, because he instinctively knew that God loved them all. Will’s world is larger, in many ways. It encompasses people of other faiths and no faith, of different lenses for seeing the world. Will is stepping out in faith into a world whose limits he has yet to discover. He takes with him the traditions and experiences of his heritage that will accompany him into the future. He knows there is more to this world than just what his senses tell him. He is surrounded by the witnesses of the past, and they help him feel grounded to the world while his future expands in front of him.
In the world, all these generations have existed. But they’ve also been released from it to imagine the uncommon, the spiritual, the connections we share beyond what we can see.
Horace smiles at the thought, and continued down the hall to make himself a sandwich.
© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2015