Of Zacchaeus, Holy Week, And My Grandmother’s Favorite Song

Amazing Grace was my grandmother’s favorite hymn. I used to hear her humming it while the fried chicken sizzled in the Crisco of her electric skillet. Then, in the dreamy carefree vacation time when love was as simple as the measuring scoop sunk full in the sunlit flour of her kitchen, Amazing Grace was a song of summer. Each summer my family loaded up the station wagon and, like lost Okies, drove from the green California hills across the Nevada and Arizona deserts to the sun-baked paradise of Grandmother’s house in Oklahoma where love abided.

I was proud that someone had written such a beautiful song about my Grandmother. Grace Ensor was a kind, gentle woman who was true blue from the hair on her head to the loyal faith she had in those she loved. So, at the age of five, I wasn’t surprised that someone had written a song about her. I too thought she was amazing.

The only part of the song that confused me was that part about being lost and being found. I couldn’t remember my grandmother ever finding me. I could, however, clearly remember being lost.

It was the Christmas of my kindergarten year, and my parents had taken my brothers and me to the Cornish Christmas celebration in a neighboring town.  I was enthralled by everything that I saw: the costumed tommy-knockers who capered in the parade, the softly falling snow, the scent of the hot Cornish pasties for sale on the corner, and, most especially, the display of Christmas toys in the shop windows. Barbie with her platinum hair piled into a beehive waved from one window while Chatty Kathy called from another. Childhood offers tough decisions, but standing there I knew that if only I could have both of those beautiful dolls I would be happy until the day I died. I grabbed my mother’s sleeve, turned to tell her of my idea about the meaning of true happiness, and then everything I thought I knew came crashing to pieces.

The sleeve I had grabbed was not my mother’s. In fact, I could not see my mother anywhere. Or my father. Or my brothers. I knew then that silver haired Barbie and silver tongued Cathy meant nothing; my happiness, my whole world, depended on me finding my family again.

Of course, I didn’t.

I was too small.

The crowd was too large for a five year old to be able to find anyone in the crush of celebrators.

My parents, however, had realized that I was lost even before I knew it myself, and they had started a search for me. The place in my chest that had become empty and scary when I discovered I was lost overflowed with true and utter bliss when my mother’s arms scooped me back into her love, safe once more. So you see, my grandmother couldn’t have been the one in the song who found me. My mother had found me. I knew; I had proof; I had been there.

Little did I know then that being lost was a characteristic, a type of trait in the children of my family.  Perhaps this characteristic of being lost was what had drawn me to my husband when we were just young things in love. Perhaps I knew in some telepathic way that he too had been lost in his youth, had at the age of four rambled away from his mother in the mountains of New Mexico and had gone missing for eight hours. Of course, unlike me, he had delayed his finding like a true prodigal by refusing the assistance of those who found him. “Oh no”, he assured the man who found him. “I can’t go with you. My mother told me never to get in a stranger’s car.” So like all the lost who are found, his father and mother came to him.

Once when I was playful, I called him Zacchaeus. Just as my grandmother loved the hymn Amazing Grace, I loved the story of Zacchaeus. Because I could remember first hand the joy of being found, I could hear a million times the story of the short little man found in the tree by Christ. Like me, Zacchaeus had gone to see a parade, had been short, too short to find security in the midst of a crowd, and like me and my husband, he became the found, not the finder, despite his intentions.

If my husband and I bear the imprint of Zacchaeus, then the type strikes true in our son. Our similarities resonate in our offspring. Like his mother and father before him, our son is a master of getting lost. Far more painful than the memory of being lost myself is the remembrance of the time he disappeared in the blink of an eye from my side. He was four, we were walking one bright and sunny day into the museum where I worked, and then suddenly I was alone. He had taken a path different from the one I had chosen for us, and suddenly he was no longer with me, no longer where I could protect him and keep him safe.

Like my mother before me, I called the police, and we began a search for him which seemed to stretch for millenia. We searched every room, every closet, every nook and every cranny of that museum to no avail. It wasn’t until we had searched the surrounding park without finding him that the officer in charge asked for his complete description in order to put out an Amber Alert. At that moment I knew the true terror and despair of loss.

Beau, Beau, my son, my son was gone, he was lost, and I would have given my very life to find him and keep him safe. At that moment, before I could reply, I had to close my eyes, grip the reality of the torn and rough upholstery of the patrol car seat, and squeeze out from behind tightly closed eyes and mouth a heartfelt prayer, “Dear God, please find him; please find him safe and unharmed; please place him in my arms again.” Then, just as I opened my mouth to offer his description, the police radio crackled to life: “A man in white is waving in the parking lot; he appears to be carrying a child who matches the suspect’s description.” Soon, when I squeezed my son with all my being and asked if he had been afraid, he said with a wisdom beyond his years, “No. I knew you would find me.”

You see, somehow, even as a child, he knew – as I had not – that being lost is not about finding your way. It’s about being found, and Love is about finding.

Of course, by then I knew that my grandmother’s favorite song wasn’t just about her, and the next time we sang Amazing Grace in church, I suddenly realized that grace is only appreciated by those who have understood they are lost and who have suffered the emptiness such awareness brings.   Grace, like any true gift, is not sought. Like the love of my mother one Christmas long ago, it comes as a surprise and a great relief and brings joy more fulsome than I imagined at age five when I thought possessing beautiful toys would bring me happiness til the end of my days.

I share with my brothers, my husband, my son, Zacchaeus, the lost lambs of the Good Shepherd parables, and all of God’s children, a spiritual — not geographic — characteristic of being lost. Grace is the gift of the one who is searching. It was the gift of the Finder to all creation before our human history even began. And perhaps we remember this most appropriately in Holy Week, when our Father proved to us, to all of his children, that he so loves each of us, he would allow no power in the universe, not even death, to separate even one of us from him.

The last time we sang my grandmother’s favorite song in her presence was at her funeral. And that time, when the sunfilled emptiness near the flour cannister and skillet of her kitchen outlined so sharply the horizons of the love we had known there, the hymn was a comfort rather than a source of pride.

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