Many times in my life, I have had the inward thought, that if you visit a good church, you might not know you were in church at all. And so it was with the church on Hunt Road when I was a child. Though faded with age, my memories of the times spent there include a love for animals St. Francis would envy. There was a love for people by which Mother Teresa would be inspired. And the diversity of those that crossed its threshold made the Creator proud. Lessons learned there were progressive, and taught with items as simple as a molasses popcorn ball.
This church had no steeple and the pastor was not paid to preach. The teachers were all volunteers. Many of its congregants were related, but one never got the sense that this relation to one another provided them with any special privilege or permissions. Holidays were celebrated with enthusiasm. Love abounded, but grace, grace was extended there as well. Education was encouraged but not required. When you stepped down the porch and into the world, you had a sense that you had somehow been changed in a way that would allow you to survive that world, until you were able to return.
Progressive? Yes. Unorthodox? Certainly. Missed? More than even I care to admit.
The church on Hunt Road was what was known to me, as Mamaw and Papaw Thompson’s house. It was always a blessing to be there. Not because they spoiled me and not because they loved me without condition (though those were two great things), but because I came of age there. In a time when cell phones were fantasy. In a time, where though I had so many ideas and plans in my mind, it was possible to visit there and simply, be. Sure there were days spent in hay fields, days spent hanging tobacco, and days spent tending a garden, but as it is with most tasks, the time spent with those you love is a reward regardless of how that time is consumed (this is why we learn to love those we work with, not simply the work we do).
My papaw had no need for a boat, but had taken it on trade from a man that owed him money from this or that deal. I hear stories about Papaw from family and people living in Blount County. He was always making deals and from what I gather, never really for the prize, but for the love of the art of making a deal. I was older and my dad and I were going fishing. We went to pick up the boat and found my grandfather, known as Mixer to most, digging in his garden.
Thinking I knew a lot about life and that I was full of compassion, I said to Mixer, “Papaw, why do you work so hard in the garden? Why do you work so hard taking care of cattle? Why won’t you take some time to go fishing with dad and me?”.
He wiped his brow with a handkerchief, folded his hands and placed them on top of his hoe, “You and your dad play golf. I work in the garden. You and your dad fish. I take care of cattle.”
The lesson stuck. These were things he did for enjoyment. They were not what I enjoyed, but he enjoyed them, and that was alright with him, and it was alright with me. Just after he said spoke those words, he dug a turnip out of the ground, peeled it back, cut off a piece off with his old, worn Case pocket knife, and handed it to me. From that point in my life until now, I am aware of the fact that my blessing may not be yours and your blessing may not be mine. And this is okay, even with God.
Many years later, as I thought of these times spent on Hunt Road, it hit me. Papaw was not working me in a hay field because he needed the help. He did not ask me to hang tobacco because he was teaching me some life lesson. My picking vegetables from the garden was not to provide food for a meal. With everything he was, he believed we were doing something we loved, together. As years have past, I have come to realize, though I do not bail hay these days as a hobby, we were doing things together that we loved, but it had very little to do with farming.
So it is with life and the existence we are co-creating with the divine. We may not have chosen a particular activity or problem to solve, but the divine is providing a place for us to be with Itself. It may take a few years, but we will see the intent was good and not harm. That it was something enjoyable when reflected upon. And as far as the church on Hunt Road? You have not lived until you have had a molasses popcorn ball as a a communion wafer. May peace abound. May what you seek be made manifest. And may those two things be the same.