In memory of my friend Harold Bertha, who died recently
Often, at the altar rail, I’m there, but not so
very there; cupped hands receive the bread,
lips sip the holy wine; but all the while I’m
wand’ring through my yesterday or tracing my
tomorrow’s fears, leaving little room to feel the
sacred sign and seal etched deep into the
clutter of my noisy, needy soul.
But I remember once, not long ago, the
mystic wine and bread transported me and
seamed me to a vastness far beyond my
solitary pew, my petty fretfulness;
bound me deep to ancient, ever-present healing cross;
tinged tongue and soul with foretaste of a heavenly feast to come;
wrapped, enclosed me in a joyous, holy openness.
And then that sudden hand upon my shoulder;
hefty, solid, strong, it reached into my solitude;
brought me back to the very here and very now of
shuffling feet and downcast eyes and kneeling hopes,
all waiting for a taste of God upon their tongues.
I remember taking Harold’s hand, aged and weathered,
burly, rough; remember looking deep into his
furrowed face, creased by scores of years, but with a smile as
warm and gentle as the summer sun; and in his touch I felt
another sign and seal, fixing me to Now, bonding me with
him and with all earth-worn saintly sinners begging grace.
Harold is no longer Here; now There,
but etched upon my shoulder—the forever
print of Harold’s palm, and fixed within my
soul the endless shining of his smile, a gift I’ll
carry with me to each holy altar rail; as well to every
ordinary altar where I work or play or pray each day.