The late afternoon hours Lee spent with Mary, sitting on the porch of their cottage, often chatting with friends they had not seen for years. Even here, the public would intrude. Preceded only by the briefest introduction performed by companions who were passing the cottage, one man advanced up the steps to the porch where the Lees were sitting with friends. “Do I behold,” this man said, “the honored roof that shelters the head of him before whose name the luster of Napolean’s pales into a shadow? Do I see the wall within which sits the most adored of men?” The self-styled orator had gained the porch; he turned to Mary. “Dare I tread the floor which she who is a scion of the patriotic house of the revered Washington condescends to hallow with her presence?”
Lee was speechless. The man was continuing, “Is this the portico that trails its vines over the noble pair— ” when Mary smiled at him and cut in with, “Yes, this is our cabin; will you take a seat upon the bench?”
I love this scene of Robert E. Lee and his wife Mary painted by Charles Flood in his book Lee: The Last Years.
I can see the Lees sitting on that porch, the horrors of war behind them, moving forward into the rebuilding of the South and of the nation – now accosted by this man, and yet responding so graciously.
Makes me think of the airs we often feel we have to take on as we approach God’s porch.
I’ve been learning the Lord’s prayer in Hebrew – first of all, because it just sounds cool. Then, of course, there is also the residual “tongues” benefit – it’s the one way this evangelical boy can appear quite charismatic in public worship.
But there’s something about praying this prayer in Hebrew. The fewer words, the gutteral sounds. A fresh awareness of the simplicity of our approach. Reading through Kenneth Bailey’s observations about this prayer in his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, that sense of simplicity is reinforced by his conviction that Jesus taught his disciples to pray in Aramaic rather than classical Hebrew. As Bailey observes, what a huge leap that would have been! Instead of long memorized prayers in a language you don’t even speak (and don’t bother looking across the aisle at our Catholic brothers – just ask yourself how often when you pray you begin speaking a language you never speak or hear anywhere else – except perhaps from a pulpit), Jesus empowered his disciples to speak intimately to God as Abba in their own native tongue. And with such few, concise words and expressions of need.
Bailey illustrates our penchant for piling on in addressing esteemed personages by relating how in 1891 a Persian scholar wrote to an American Christian missionary scholar, Dr. Cornelious VanDyke, who at that time was a distinguished professor of medicine in Beirut. The Persian scholar sent a gift to VanDyke with this wording in a cover letter:
A souvenir to the esteemed spiritual physician and religious philosopher, his Excellency, the only and most learned who has no second in his age, Dr. Cornelius VanDyke, the American. As a souvenir presented to his loftiness and goodness and to him that is above titles, who is a propagator of knowledge and the founder of perfections, and a possessor of high qualities and owner of praiseworthy character, the pole of the firmament of virtues and the pivot of the circle of sciences, the author of splendid works and firm foundations, who is well versed in the understanding of the inner realities of soul and horizons, who deserves that his name be written with light upon the eyes of people rather than with gold on paper…
Now that is called a build-up. And the reality is He needs nor desires none from us.
With what truly wonder-full contrast do we hear coming from our own lips the simple and intimate Αββα ὁ πατήρ – Abba, Papa, Dad, Daddy in Aramaic and Greek, East and West; the universal cry of the Spirit across all boundaries in human hearts awakening to the One who would know us as Father. Who, while we wax ever so eloquent as we ascend the steps of his porch, extolling his divine virtues and attributes, tells us “Yes, this is our cabin” and then beckons us to please come and take a seat on the bench.