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The doorbell rings.

Behind the screen door stands my plumber Rob, the beak of his cap shielding the morning sun from his eyes. I smile, knowing I am in good hands, skillful and sinewy. For years he has kept my kitchen and bathroom in good repair. More significant than his skill, though, are his cheerful manner, his willingness to address any problem, and solutions are found within the drawers of his battered toolbox or the compartments of his van. Unlike other plumbers I have had, he also wipes up watery streaked floors with paper towels that he carries with him, then disposes them.

On a deeper level, I view Rob’s lifelong profession from a spiritual perspective. Instead of wearing a suit and tie to work, he pulls on clean jeans, a red T-shirt, canvas shoes, this morning’s attire. Instead of scrutinizing proposals in boardrooms, he studies clogged sinks, leaking faucets. Instead of lunching at gourmet restaurants, he snacks in his truck, in between customers. Instead of ordering state-of-the-art adornments, he replaces worn fixtures or makes others serviceable. Such humble work has etched Rob’s servant-character, not unlike Jesus, beautiful to behold.

On an even deeper level, I liken Rob’s knack of cleaning up stinking messes and restoring water flow with Spirit’s action in human hearts, gone amuck with disorders. The process can be complicated, costly, even exhausting, but with the restoration of the flow of grace/water, exhilarating life returns in its myriad colors.

The Spirit-Plumber is still working on me.

 

Nothing like a folk tale to engage imaginations and enlarge the world around us—Such is the Brothers Grimm’s Town Musicians of Bremen (1819), still enjoyed by young hearts, six years old or ninety.

The story begins with an aging donkey, decrying his master’s displeasure over his slowness in pulling the cart to market. Rather than face probable death, the donkey flees to Bremen where he will become a musician.

On the road he meets a weary dog, fire thinning his bones. No longer able to hunt, he fears being put down by his master. But the donkey’s invitation to make music sparks his interest and he climbs onto his back.

Next they meet a cat with a face “like three rainy days.” She fears her mistress’s drowning, because blunted teeth prevent her from catching mice in their cottage. She, too, joins them.

Then a rooster crowing with all its might causes them to pause along the road. They learn that cook will cut off his head and prepare him for tomorrow’s dinner. He, too, welcomes the invitation and they continue on toward Bremen.

Although the story contains other adventures, I want to focus upon the four friends, so human in their fears of aging and the specter of death. Happily, the donkey sees beyond his fate and chooses an alternative: making music for others. So inspired he is that others choose similarly and climb onto his back and head for Bremen where everyone loves music.

It’s about discovering and developing meaning in life that keeps us fresh—even living with a terminal illness. I have found it so.

 

How many doors do we open and close within a given day: to our homes, our cars, to our places of work, to institutions and places of commerce, to homes of friends? Are we aware of the different kinds of doors, hinged, folding, sliding, rotating, up and over, and so many more, some with locks and some without? Does crossing their threshold alter our energy? What or whom are we keeping in or keeping out?

Such questions must have influenced the earliest reproductions of both single and double doors depicted upon walls of Egyptian tombs in the Nile Valley. Here, the door symbolizes an area, closed off from the profane, similar to later ornamental doors found on mosques, monasteries, cathedrals, and temples, orienting the worshiper toward its mysteries within. And museums around the world preserve doors removed from ancient Eastern and Western homes. A set of Roman folding doors from a first century AD estate in Pompeii, ruined by Mount Vesuvius, can still be seen in the Archeological Museum in Naples.

Even more importantly, there are other doors, closer to home, the door to our hearts. Their challenge is to pray for discernment, to discipline our instincts, and to savor the new knowledge that crowns this effort. Thus we thrive in our flawed humanness and bring our unique gifts to fruition among others.

 

 

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