Any Methodists in the room will know the Epworth League, the youth component among followers of John and Charles Wesley. Somewhere in every Methodist church building—at least the ones I’ve visited—there is a room used by the League for its meetings, and prominent in that room will be (or, tragically, will have been) a stained glass window showing Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He kneels in prayer at a boulder, as a brilliant beam of light bears witness to Jesus’ conversation with his Father. Even non-Christians (and Christians who’ve been raised in a cave) will understand the strong message presented here.
Am I wrong to think that each of us has had such moments—not necessarily any direct communcation from the Big Guy, though as an atheist I’m cautious to admit that I’ve had one of those myself. No, I mean other occasions when we feel intimately aware that something is going on around us, something special and, perhaps, even unique, that others in the vicinity seem not to see or understand as intensely as we do.
I remember, for example, exactly where I was (in a shower in my freshman dorm) and what I was doing (waking up after an all-night studio project at the University of Oklahoma) when someone down the hall shouted something muffled. I turned off the water, said “What?” and heard the news of President Kennedy’s assassination.
I remember the evening that Victor Christ-Janer spoke in the lobby of the School of Architecture at OU, opening his remarks with the news that Rev Martin Luther King, Jr., had been assassinated in Memphis.
I remember Neil Armstrong’s walk on the Moon and also the death of Frank Lloyd Wright (I was fourteen). And I remember being told in third grade to add the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance, something that seemed curiously wrong to an eight-year-old and which I have never said.
I remember being given by my father one of his pithiest and most pointed lessons: “The world” my father said, “is full of assholes. You should try not to be one of them.” I also remember the phone call telling me he had died. He, by the way, had not been an asshole, while I, on the other hand, cannot make that claim for myself.
I remember having drinks one evening with Cecil Elliott at the old Northern Exposure when conversation turned to degrees and levels of “success” and being given one of the meatiest pieces of wisdom ever bestowed on me or anyone else, I suspect. “Success?” Elliott intoned. “Success is not being recognized as an absolute failure by too many people you’re not married to.” Somewhere in my files, there is a signed and dated cocktail napkin attesting to this event.
In each of these cases, the metaphorical clouds parted, a ray of light shone down around me and I understood that these were moments of witness. And now I can add another moment to those vivid memories: 10:12 p.m. EDT when MSNBC announced that President Obama had been declared the winner of the ugliest electoral campaign in my recollection. I will savor that moment forever.
Howard needs to write something about this ability—this responsibility—to bear witness and what that might mean for Agincourt.