Sermon Text: The Gospel According to Marie, One Last Time
Two women have made me the priest -- and the person -- I am. One is my life partner, Paula, of course. The other is my wounded girl, Marie.
I want to talk to you one last time about Marie. Most of you know she has autism. Sometimes this condition is called "mind blindness," because someone with autism finds it almost impossible to sense what someone else is feeling or thinking. We don't know what causes it, but it seems to be a genetic defect.
Marie also has intellectual deficits. That is not related to her autism. Many people with autism are extremely intelligent. But Marie's mental limitations are most likely because the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck while she was being born and her brain was probably deprived of some oxygen.
Because of these disabilities, you could say Marie's life is limited. But I came across something written by Ursula LeGuin, a famous and gifted writer. Listen to this:
A planet, close-up, is all dirt and rocks. A life day-to-day is a hard job. You get tired; you lose the pattern. But if you see the whole thing -- a planet, a life -- it's beautiful.
Those words can apply to all of us, but I think of Marie. Her life, limited as it is, is beautiful.
Over the 37 years of her life, I have always kept a journal. And I have taken notes on her. Some of the stories are sad and painful. Some are very funny.
And then there are the moments when Marie is the voice of God.
You have to listen carefully to Marie. She talks nonstop, and much of what she says is repetitive or nonsensical. And yet she is very aware of whatever is going on around her. It just comes out sideways in her words. And if you listen, really listen, you can find treasure.
Some of you have asked what I plan to do in retirement. Well, Paula and I have a lot of dreams, of course. But among other things, I might try some writing, now that I will have time for it.
Kurt Vonnegut, another famous writer, said, I believe that reading and writing are the most nourishing forms of meditation anyone has so far found. I do Occidental-style meditation when I make the rest of the world drop away by gazing at little black marks on a printed page.
If I do any writing, I might write something called "The Gospel According to Marie." That book would certainly contain the five best things I've ever heard Marie say.
These are words I've taken to heart. These are words I recite out loud every day on my walks. These are words to live by. Most of you have heard them before.
But we listen to the same Bible words again and again in church. So you can hear this personal Scripture again, too.
Marie once asked a really good question. She phrased it in a funny way, but it's very profound. She asked, "If you were you, what would you do?" If you were you, what would you do? I cannot answer that question for anyone else. But I can assure you that the question is worth your meditation. If you were you, what would you do?
Another time, I heard her say something to a priest friend of mine. Like all clergy, he's quite a talker. We were at his home, and he was chatting extensively about something I can no longer remember. But Marie cut in laughing and said to him, "Lighten up, Godboy!" Marie named him Godboy before she gave me the same name. She has no respect for the clergy.
The point she was making is important for anyone. Don't take yourself so seriously. You're just another Joe, just another Josephine. Laugh at yourself once in a while. Lighten up.
The third saying from the Gospel According to Marie is one she gave me one time years ago in a time of stress. It was during a very bad stretch of winter weather, and
things were not so good at church, and I was frazzled. Marie noticed.
And Marie said, "Daddy, let it go...go with the flow." I was stunned. I said, "What?" She went on, "Breathe in...breathe out."
We found out later this was a mantra used by caregivers to help her during times she was stressed. But my sweet Marie saw that I needed to take those words to heart. And I did. And I do.
This is a time of incredible stress for all of us. So her words are especially valuable to us right now. Let it go...go with the flow...breathe in...breathe out.
Now, saying number 4 is one I've told you about many times, because it's so great. One day I was doing that thing that all husbands sometimes do. My wife was talking, and I was looking at her, but I wasn't really paying attention. Marie noticed, and laughed. And then she said, "Listen up, Godboy!"
That is such good advice to anyone in any relationship. Listen up...give the other person your true attention.
But saying number 5 is the best of all. I will think of this one every day of my life until I die.
If you know anyone with autism, you know that they are not comfortable with eye contact. Marie is no exception...she does not look people in the eye very often. That doesn't mean she misses anything, you understand. She must have amazing peripheral vision.
Well, one day years ago, as I always did, I said, "Marie, I love you." She answered, "I love you, too." But she wouldn't really look at me, of course. And even though I knew why, that day it still bothered me.
So out of frustration, I said, "Marie, why won't you look me in the eye?" And immediately, without eye contact, she said very simply, "Because I can look you in the heart."
It took my breath away. It still does.
The greatest thing in the world is to be loved. If you have someone who loves you...a friend, a child, a spouse, a parent, or God above...you are rich. If someone can say to you, "I can look you in the heart," you have the greatest gift of all.
So those are the highlights of The Gospel According to Marie.
If you were you, what would you do?
Let it go, go with the flow, breathe in, breathe out.
I can look you in the heart.
I want to finish this by paraphrasing one of my favorite fictional characters: Captain James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise. When his best friend, Mr. Spock, died saving the ship, Kirk said something I can change a little to apply to my sweet Marie.
Of all the hearts I have encountered in my travels, hers is one of the most human.