He was on the short and stocky side, blond hair and short cropped blond beard. He wore sunglasses, a thick, stylized wooden cross around his neck, tan shorts and a black shirt. I was riding my bike towards him on the tow path of the Delaware River Canal in my latest adopted hometown of Yardley, Pennsylvania. It was about six o’clock in the morning, with beautiful, early summer weather. As is my custom, I said, as a rode up to him, good morning.
“Thank God!” he said as I rode by, and he called out to me as I continued to pedal, “I hope you find Jesus, brother!” All I was planning on finding was Washington Crossing. Finding Jesus on the tow path would’ve been a bonus. If Saul (later Paul) could find Jesus on the road to Damascus, why couldn’t I find Him on the tow path to Washington Crossing?
What would a 21st century Jesus look like, anyway? A vaguely Arab looking guy with a robe and beard? An Asian woman? An African American teen? A White guy in a hat? If I were to see Him, it would be quite startling, finding yourself in the presence of the Almighty.
After the shock wore off, I think I’d come to the realization to I’m seeing Him because my time on this planet had come to an end (Did I forget to duck while riding under one of the many bridges over the canal and break my neck?). I would be quite shaken to be taken away from my beloved family, but if the door to Heaven’s open, I wouldn’t be one to decline. As much as I like Yardley, this is Heaven we’re talking about. It’s probably a lot like Upper Makefield.
I can remember two distinct times in my life when I felt a closeness to God. The first was during my bone marrow transplant in a hospital in Boston. The whole floor was people in a similar situation. On this one floor of this one big city hospital, there were a number of us gingerly treading this zone between life and death. If one of us picked up the wrong infection or not quite enough cancer cells were killed off, it was just a matter of time before the Grim Reaper came knocking. If you lucked out, avoided complications and by some miracle eliminated all the millions/billions of cancer cells in you, you literally got a new lease on life.
One might argue it was a God forsaken place if there were so many sick people. If he was so loving and caring, how could He allow this suffering to happen? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know Jesus wasn’t afraid to spend time with the sick and dying, even managed to cure a few in His time. I struggled with the ‘loving God allowing deadly diseases’ quandary and the best I can come up with is, if Jesus suffered and died at a young age, why can’t anyone else?
The second time wasn’t so nearly as inspiring. It was at the farmer’s market in Trenton, New Jersey. I love farmers’ markets. I love to cook, and you can get great food cheap there. I remember one really nice day, being surrounded by all this beautiful produced piled on top of each other, their intoxicating smells filling my head. Around me walked by people of all colors and races. English, Polish, Russian, Hindi filled my ears. The variety of all this great stuff just struck me and I thought there must be a greater power putting all this together.
Of course, there are far more rational explanations for what I experienced. I’ve been to many other farmers markets, and the one in Trenton, many more times, without that feeling coming over me. My family visited the main farmer’s market in San Francisco a few years ago, and the variety in food and people far exceeded Trenton’s. I didn’t feel close to the Divine there. What I felt mostly was amazement at the quality and quantity of food that surrounded us, and the desire to eat as much of it as possible.
I guess we find God where we can (if we’re so inclined), whether it’s on a bike, in a hospital bed or in front of a pile of strawberries. I hope you find your Jesus, brother.