Moments of Forever
by James Ian Walter
excerpted from his book Moments of Forever
What are Moments of Forever? They are stories that touch
the mind, the funny bone, and, perhaps, the Mystery....
Voice of the Hand: A Hand from heaven touched
mine, and a voice said, “Write.”...
The Spirit: About an hour’s
drive from Auburn, the town of Warm Springs, Alabama, is a
good spot for browsing and relaxing....
aunt Bae never had any children. She thought of me as her
son, and made me feel special, and I loved her for that....
The Question: What
is life all about if one day I will die?...
Letting Your Spirit Grow, Step by Step: First,
accept God’s grace and unconditional love for you,
and give up trying to always be right....
What are Moments of Forever? They are stories that touch the
heart, the mind, the funny bone, and, perhaps, the Mystery.
Most are stories from my own experience; some are written by
good friends, or by strangers, or anonymously. Educated as
both an Episcopal priest and a psychologist, I have found that
experience has enriched my education. Education can open doors
for us; it is experience that lets the sunshine in.
My stories are not linear. Life for me is disorganized, full
of surprises and uncertain risks. Yet, it can be understood,
a bit, in retrospect. A well-ordered and structured life, like
certainty, would finally become boring. There are other connections
in writing and life that are more important than organization.
you to share with me here a few experiences that allow us
to smell, for a moment, the aroma of what could be.
Sometimes my stories are subjective, written in the first person;
other times I have taken a third-person perspective. Though
grammatically incorrect, it feels natural and good to express
myself this way. In the third person I am speaking of myself
as another person—that is, as the child speaking to the
man, and vice versa. In the third person, he heard a voice, “This
is part of the mystery,” and the spirit of the child
replied, I wonder, I wonder.”
Voice of the Hand
Hand from heaven touched mine, and a voice said, “Write.”
In a mixture
of desire and uncertainty, I responded, “But
what shall I write, and how, and why me?”
of the Hand relied, “Because you must.”
asked, “ But what and how and why and…”
interrupted, “Do not fret about such trivia.
Listen to the heartbeat of your soul. There you’ll find
how and what and so much more.”
Writing became a clarifier. Listening
to my voice within, I heard the yearnings and struggle,
as well as the laughter
and the joy.
I must remain open to all my experiences—the
good and the bad, the hurtful and the helpful, the raunchy
and the sacred, the despised and the beloved, the honest and
the hypocritical. Life is a taskmaster. It does not allow us
to pick and choose.
Writing is a reflection of my soul, a light that removes shadows.
Paul experienced something akin to this when he wrote to the
me, though I am the very least of all saints, this grace
given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches
of Christ, and to make all men see what is the plan of the
mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things. ( Ephesians 3:8-9)
an hour’s drive from Auburn, the town of Warm
Springs, Alabama, is a good spot for browsing and relaxing.
After three hours of shopping there during one of our visits,
my wife Katharine and I decided to take a break. We stopped
at a local restaurant hoping to find a good hamburger. It was
not a fancy place, but what it lacked in polish, it made up
for in friendliness and good down-home cooking.
As I waited
for my burger to arrive, I wandered to the rear of the restaurant,
where music was coming from a back room.
An elderly man was sitting there in front of a piano-organ “contraption,” and
singing along to the marches and hymns and love songs he played.
I lost myself in the music until I heard Katherine’s
voice calling me back to reality, “Come on, before your
burger gets cold.”
juicy hamburger filled me with contentment. I sat happily
eating my meal barely noticing the elderly man, who
was now pacing back and forth behind me. “Maybe he’s
trying to make a decision,” I guessed, quickly returning
my full attention to my food.
a strong, clear masculine voice sang out, enunciating each
word: “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound, that saved
a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind,
but now I see.”
was the same old man who had been pacing behind me, now accompanying
himself on the piano-organ. Shoppers all
around had stopped to listen, most with smiles of polite indulgence.
Then the old man began the second verse, which is so filled
with the simple but profound meaning of what God in Christ
is really about: “Twas Grace that taught my heart to
fear, and Grace my heart relieved…”
miracle was taking place among the onlookers. The smiles
of indulgence were being replaced by expressions of
fascination. We all knew and felt that the old man was singing
for and about us. Not a noise was heard, except his voice: “When
we’ve been there ten thousand years….
I took a last bite of my hamburger. The music stopped. The
old man was gone.
that night, it occurred to me that my spirit and the old
spirit had touched one another. As he paced uneasily behind
me, our spirits had shared our love for the
hymn, and he was given the courage to sing. And as he sang,
he captured for a moment, the spirits of those who heard him.
remembered these words: “The wind blows where
it will, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it
goes. So it is with all who are born of the Spirit.”
aunt Bae never had any children. She thought of me as her son
and made me feel special, and I loved her for that.
She is in a nursing home now, and nothing I do can keep her
from growing old. Nothing I do can take away the loneliness;
I cannot stop her fear of losing touch with reality or make
her feel as she did sixty years ago. There is nothing I can
do, and yet she did so much for me.
the music room one day at the end of a visit, I hear the
song leader say, “Now let’s sing that
most beautiful of all hymns, 'Amazing Grace,' one
more time.” As the voices rise to sing, “how sweet
the sound that saved a wretch like me,” the thought comes
to me: These people are not in the midst of sweet sounds and
amazing grace; they are in the midst of loneliness, of fear
of losing touch, of feeling forgotten, left out, cut off from
their families, and they are probably wondering, “What’s
happening?” and “Why is this happening to me?” These
are questions that only loving and touching and sharing can
reach the front parlor, I turn Bae’s wheelchair
around to face me. “Is this okay, Bae?”
“ Yes, Love, it’s fine.” I
pull the little sweater around her shoulders, trying to show
how much I care.
in a whisper, she says, “ Bye, my love.”
Every family should have a Bae.
a sentence in Paul’s twelfth letter to the
Church of Rome which will forever remind me of Bae: “Abhor
that which is evil and cleave to the good; and in love be kindly
affectionate to one another.” Amen
What is life all about if one day I will die?
The question forced its way into my 10-year-old mind one night
in the midst of my studies. I was sitting alone before a log
fire in the big living room on Paegler Place, preparing my
lessons for school. This was a familiar ritual for me, but
that night was different.
As I paused
in my homework, watching the slow changes of the flames,
my mind began to wander. Suddenly, like a bolt from
the blue, the question appeared: What is life all about if
one day I will die? The thought shoved its way into my consciousness
and demanded to be heard. I knew the question was not mine,
it had a source from beyond my consciousness. It did not just
make me uneasy—it literally jolted me with a power that
compelled me to pay attention.
What is life all about if one day I will die?
I have no idea how long I stayed there that night, caught
up in a query to which I could not respond. That question touched
something in me that had never been touched before. It reached
the core of my soul. Yet, even that is inaccurate, for the
soul and its core are beyond our reach.
to tell my mother and father, but I didn’t.
Somehow it was too personal, or maybe I thought it would upset
them to learn that their young son was having thoughts about
death. In retrospect, I now realize that the question transcended
death. In all these years, the question has never gone away.
Perhaps it is eternal.
I was ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church. Only
within the last 20 years have I begun to realize that
perhaps God placed “his hand on my shoulder” on
that night long ago.
Letting Your Spirit Grow, Step by Step
and unconditional love for you, and give up trying to always
Second, take the risk sometime of letting yourself be open
and vulnerable to those you love.
Third, let honesty be more important to you than politeness.
Fourth, give up denying and distorting your genuine feelings.
love those who don’t deserve it.
Sixth, learn to laugh at yourself.
Seventh, listen to others without judging them.
forget all the above and be your own true self.
James Ian Walter
Walter's Web site for more information about Moments