For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is a gift of God.
It is true. If I depended on my own faith to carry me, I would have been lost years ago. The dark night of my soul might taste like salty, ruffled potato chips. Each moment of darkness in our world is strung together by relentless news stories of community shootings and meaningless speeches about greatness. Sundays come for the wrung out, just as they do for the ebullient.
The faith I depend on is not my own, but a lady named Pearl, or maybe her name was Doris. I don’t remember anymore. She was an elderly lady at the church where I did my internship. I changed her name for a verbatim or a paper along the years and my memory has eroded and so, to me, she is my pearl. She taught me humility and faithfulness, and put a face to the traditions and legacy of our church.
Pearl’s church was in a run-down urban area. One evening, during Lent, there was a shooting in the nearest parking lot that left three young men dead. I wasn’t at the church at the time of the shooting, but I was shaken by the event. The next Sunday, Pearl came to me and asked me if I was going to continue teaching the Lenten study. She assured me she’d understand if I wanted to end it. I thought she was scared and looking for a way out of attending the class. I puffed myself up and told her I’d keep teaching, but she could stop attending if she was scared. Pearl’s response left me humbled.
“This is my church and if there is a class, I will attend,” Pearl said. “I only asked if you were going to keep teaching, because I knew you were frightened.” She was offering me an opportunity to quit coming to the church at night because I was scared. Pearl was never deterred from coming to worship, or a bible study or a UMW meeting. Whether it was daylight or nighttime, if there was an event, Pearl was at her church. Pearl was faithful to God and if there was fear in her heart, I couldn’t tell.
Her cancer returned as I was finishing my internship, and I visited her at her home. Pearl talked about the end of her life. She said that she’d had a good life and her family would remember her. I could see dust on her dining room table as the light shined in the window and she sat a bowl of something sweet out for my visit. When Pearl hugged me before I left, her faithfulness planted itself in my heart.
My faith is not sturdy enough for the darkness of the world, but Pearl’s faith is. Through generations past, the seeds of love and generosity are handed down and we are saved again and again. The salty tears of darkness are replaced by the sweet light of Christ. This is our eternal gift.
Prayer: Gracious God, thank you for the pearl that is your gift of life and salvation. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Leigh Ann Shaw
Vista United Methodist Church