Regardless of its affiliation, a House of God is just that. Years ago, after a synagogue in Cleveland abruptly dismissed me as its spiritual leader, I discovered tenderness and healing in a regal old church.
My daughter Sari and I were returning from what had been a pleasant—but painfully revealing meeting—with the top editors of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. It was about two weeks after the discharge. Sari was twenty years old at the time, home on winter college break, doing her best to soothe her father’s pain and humiliation. The paper’s publisher had invited me to a meeting with a few top editors with the intent of discussing a position as a full-time columnist. It was a very curative and soothing gathering; I took to heart the unmitigated kindness of this group of all-Christian executives.
Driving up Cleveland’s stately and hilly eastern suburban streets, a kind stillness in the car between us, I noticed my daughter staring out into the snowy world—a look of incomprehension and fear shaping her face. The executives at the Plain Dealer had been so thoughtful and compassionate: I was a regular contributor of columns and they really wanted to do something.
But in spite of the coffee and cakes and genuinely nice talk and the authentic outrage, well, there was really no future for me right then as a suddenly remade journalist!
My heart ached for my daughter, in fact for both of my daughters, who were suffering through this rather public event at the time. And I wasn’t without my own deep mortification and apprehensions and anger; I yearned for a spiritual mentor to comfort my daughter and me. Someone to listen and not offer impossible clichés; someone who could offer insight from the wisdom of the real world and not stand on gratuitous aphorisms; someone whose soul was in scripture but who understood about families and fathers and job loss and marriage and degradation. Someone who wasn’t parochial about denomination.
I found myself pulling into the driveway of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights. I had no idea if the rector, Reverend Nick White, a dear friend and longtime community partner, was even available or if this was acceptable protocol. But I was really in trouble, in point of fact.
We walked into this Christian sanctuary, where I had often preached and taught, and spoke to an immediately welcoming receptionist—who was not certain if Reverend White was in the building. I apologized for the presumption; it just felt like healing to be so warmly received. The receptionist made a couple of hushed calls on her intercom; in moments, Sari and I were being accompanied up a seemingly obscured staircase to what was Nick White’s unassuming private study. (I later learned he had left a meeting in session to meet us the second he heard we were in the church).
He joined us and spoke quietly to us while warming the room with a kettle of steaming tea and gently probing questions to Sari that he knew well enough would soften the stones in my soul. “How do you think your Dad is doing?” “Are you angry at anybody?” “Would you like to call me when you get back to school so we can speak privately?”
There was no discussion that afternoon about God, faith, and theology, and there was certainly no judgment. The holy man just wanted to be kind and I knew this came from his Christian soul. I added this awareness to what I call my souvenirs from heaven.