A song by Peter Mayer, Blue Boat Home, depicts the earth as a boat sailing the universe, and we, “kindred pilgrim souls,” lean over the edge of our boat “in wonder, casting questions into the deep.”* The moment that the song queued up on my car’s old but good CD player on a recent morning, I spotted a great bird flying overhead. An egret or a heron. I was driving down the highway. The sky was overcast but a disc of sun faintly appeared through the shifting clouds so that the heron passed across the sun in silvery silhouette. It was a moment that somehow caught my moving car and the moving heron and the slip of the sun in an instance of common trajectory, like grace. The sight of the bird flying across the sun and the gentle lyrics of Blue Boat Home were too much for me: I began to weep. A seminary friend had died suddenly the week before. He was not a close friend, but I had sat with him in classes for four years and he was too young and he was in the midst of exploring his path, of “casting questions into the deep.” We do a lot of that at seminary, casting questions, leaning over the edge in wonder; we are kindred pilgrim souls in that way. I suspect that many of us lean over the edge in wonder and also with a set of harrowing questions. In my concentration of study I look at a lot of justice issues, which means peering into injustices and our kindred inhumanity. Recently, while studying the Armenian genocide, I cast many urgent questions into the deep. I wondered about the whole venture of we human beings in our blue boat home. Who are we? Who — really — are we?
I was born upon the fathoms/never harbor or port have I known. My friend went through a lot of changes in his short life, pursued different paths, explored the fathoms. He seemed to be coming into his own. He and I had a couple of disagreements, one fairly recently in a class discussion, and strangely on the morning he died, before I knew that he had, I was thinking of that discussion. I was still arguing with him about it, turning it over in my mind. In class we’d been discussing a contemporary, seemingly intractable conflict in the world and he’d said: “I can’t do anything about that. All I can do is love the people on both sides of it.” While I agreed that we should do this, I felt that it wasn’t enough. I still don’t feel that it’s enough, but I love his answer, too, and I think I have come to understand something about why he answered it the way he did; I have learned a lot about him in the many tributes posted by friends upon his death. He had served in the military, no stranger to conflict. If I ask myself why I answered the way I did, I am not sure I know. Drifting here with my ship’s companions.
At the moment that I learned of his unexpected death I couldn’t have been in a better place for news that comes with shock and sadness: I was in the seminary chapel with fellow students, professors, and staff. We have learned together, prayed together, argued together; we have cast many, many questions into the deep. We are a diverse group and not monolithic in our various faith traditions; we are not mono anything. What we are is a beloved community. We are drawn together by common goals of ministering, serving, healing, loving, bearing witness, practicing justice, creating art, and not least the art of a life. I could see that coming together for my friend. And too soon he is gone. Hail the great winds urging me on.
And so this question of his passing I cast into the deep with all my other questions. I saw the heron glide across a silvery sun. The heron was a heavenly body in that moment, sure as a star knowing its course. I am less sure than the heron, but as I watched it turn toward the sun I felt the something that calls us into being. My heart, I would say, was lifted off the highway for a moment with that kindred soul. Making our way by the light of the heavens. I am glad we crossed paths for a brief time.
* The lyrics, cited with quotation marks or in italics are from the song Blue Boat Home, by Peter Mayer. http://www.petermayer.net/music/