Thursday, February 25, 2010

"My Room" - A powerful homily by a treasured friend and member of St. Paul's

For the past year we've invited St. Paul's people to offer a reflection at our Wednesday Evening Prayer. We've been treated to some extraordinary meditations from some extraordinary people.

Last night, it was my privilege to read one of these reflections from
Joseph "Pepe" Humphrey. I need to explain a bit.

Pepe, and his wife Sally, were among the first people I got to know when we moved to Charlottesville. They are from Berkeley, and they had been members at All Souls Parish until he took a professor post at the University of Virginia. My All Souls friends told me to look them up, and of course I did.

Pepe has been in our Education for Ministry group. We've been meeting in his house until recently.

Pepe could not be there last night. He has cancer. He was scheduled to read his homily a few weeks ago, but then the snow hit, and he couldn't get to St. Paul's. We rescheduled for last night, but he is now so weak he could not come to read it.

He asked me to read this for him. I have to say it was one of the most powerful Evening Prayer experiences I have ever witnessed.

Before you read this, first read John 14:1-6. Then take your time reading, and please keep Pepe and Sally, and his daughters, in your prayers:
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, and when He placed the stars in the firmament of the heavens, I like to think He brought into existence a universe replete with galaxies, each with innumerable solar systems supporting many, many earth-like planets vibrant with life at different stages, with intelligent God-loving creatures like us created in the image of God. Jesus says in John’s Gospel, "Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also.” I like to think that the “Father’s house” Jesus speaks of is the universe God created, and that the “many rooms” are the collection of life-supporting planets in this universe.

I have a dwelling place that I call “My Room.” I have lived in My Room all my life. My Room has many windows and a door, and I control whether they are open, half open or shut, and what passes through them. I have lived a very insulated, self-focused and self-gratifying life in My Room, with the door to it often shut except for special visitors of my own choosing. But now and then I have opened or half-opened some of the windows to deal with the world outside. In fact, some of the windows have mail slots at their base, so that if I do not wish to open a particular window I can still interact indirectly with the world outside by posting a note.

One window that is fully open all the time is the Window of Knowledge. For I am a scientist you see, and my livelihood and much of my intellectual excitement rest largely on the knowledge I receive and transmit through that window. I have no problem keeping that window open.

Another window that I thought was fully open is the Window of Family Relatives and Friends. But when I look carefully I see that it has been only partly open. Over the years I have taken for granted my wife and children and not bothered to fully open that window to let pass through it all the responsibilities and joys associated with being a husband and a father. I have now fully opened that window.

There is also the Window of Health, another window that I thought was fully open but which, in fact, was only partly open. Again, for years I took good health for granted and did not let enough fresh air and sunshine pass through this window, to really promote my good health in the company of others. I have done exercise all my life, but always alone, inside My Room, cut off from the outside world.

Then there is the Window of Love and Compassion. This window has always been mostly shut, any interactions with the outside world being through the mail slot at its base. The window was mostly shut because I thought I knew all about love and compassion. But I was wrong. By opening this window I discover that, to know about love you must allow yourself to be loved, and to know about compassion you have to experience suffering. In the self-satisfied smug world of My Room, I had cut myself off from both real love and true compassion. Now this window has been pried wide open and I know more about love and compassion, especially for others.

There are other windows to My Room and we need not explore them all, except perhaps to tell you about the Window of Faith and Hope. I knew this window was jammed, painted shut, but I gave it no importance. I had never questioned my “faith;” and what did I need to “hope” for?; I had all I needed to hope for in My Room. Then a series of devastating events occurred in relatively quick succession...I was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer and started to receive a long and painful therapy...
In my desperation and suffering I ran to the Window of Faith and Hope and tried to pry it open, but I could not budge it. I pounded on it, I clawed with fingernails at the paint hoping to loosen it, I pulled as forcefully as I could on the handle. But all to no avail. And yet I could hear whispering on the other side of the window, and I yelled in anger “Open this window!” But nothing happened, just a continued gentle whispering on the other side. Eventually, I slumped against the window and finally crumpled to the floor miserable and exhausted, a very sad and broken man. In my sobbing I begged God’s forgiveness for my great sin and, eventually, I fell into a deep sleep. In my sleep I heard more whispering, I heard these words being whispered to me: “For behold, you look for truth deep within me, and will make me understand wisdom secretly.”

Hours later when I awoke, the first thing I noticed was that the window of Faith and Hope was wide open, letting fresh air and sunlight into My Room. The window showed no signs of having been forced, and it moved easily on its hinges. The other thing I noticed was that the whispering had stopped. But now that the window was fully open I could read some words the Whisperer had scorched into the outside wooden frame; the words read: “The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

I come to the end of my story. The point is to remind you that each one of us lives in a room of our own making, with windows and a door, and it is important to open the windows and the door fully to allow the joy and gladness of the outside world to enter your room carried by the Grace and Love of God. I think the psalmist new all about cosmic houses and rooms when he wrote: “One thing have I asked of the LORD; one thing I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the fair beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.”

Joseph A.C. Humphrey

Painting by Edward Hopper


Stephanie Bolton said...

Jim, thanks for sharing this on your blog. It is deeply moving. wow. What a gift to us all, Pepe. Thank you.

Elisa A. Ferrante said...

Pepe Humphrey was a great mentor to me and an amazing human being. My prayers and thoughts go out to his family during these hard moments.

Miguel said...

Makes me think about how really simple our role in this land really is, and how complicated we manage to make it. These reflexions are very inspiring, thanks for sharing them. And God bless Pepe.

Dr. Mohammad said...

I am very sorry for the death of my great teacher and friend professor pepe Humphrey. Really, we lost greate reference;Allah bless Pepe Amen.

J. Luis Rosales said...

I am deeply saddened by the loss of my good friend and mentor. Our collaboration together in the past several years was truly enriching. I thank the lord for giving me the opportunity to have known such a wonderful person. My deepest sympathies to his wife, Sally, and his family.

Victor C. said...

His Room is full of Light now. He was a good man indeed and I cherrish the limited time I shared with him in the course of my graduate studies at U of A. May God rest his Soul.

Josh Cushner said...

I lost contact with Pepe since about 2001, and unfortunately only learned of his passing today. But he is one of only two people who has ever truly mentored me, and I will try to return the favor by mentoring others with similar care, enthusiasm and gentleness. You left a wonderful mark on the world Pepe. Thank you.