This picture paints a thousand words, doesn't it? An empty microphone, a spotlight but no speaker. Is this before the show or after? Was it an experience to remember? Who is in the audience ... who is behind the curtain? What are the emotions in the audience - expectancy, satisfaction or disappointment? The final curtain holds its secrets with compassion. It veils eternity and final destiny. There comes a time in all our lives when we have to take a long and intimate look at the curtain. We get to a place where we realise that, in spite of our prayers and illusions, the show did not go on; can never go on forever. That there is a time when the microphone will stand alone on this side of the curtain. It is often when the spotlight shines on an empty space that we realise things about this life that we could never see while the show went on. In October 2018, I faced my final curtain and it was so close that I could touch the rich velvet. That experience changed my life, like all connection with mortality is designed to do. One morning I found myself murmuring along with Ol' Blue Eyes: "And now, the end is near And so I face the final curtain My friends, I'll say it clear I'll state my case of which I'm certain I've lived a life that's full I travelled each and every highway But more, much more than this I did it my way." And while singing, I realised that my microphone might stand alone soon; that the spotlight will be on someone else; that I will disappear from the stage of life and also be hidden behind the curtain. I think most of us live most of our lives in an illusion of immortality. And that is quite acceptable for we need that to be able to face our difficulties every day. But the day you receive a final diagnosis, with limited time to round off your performance, you are forced to look intently at the final curtain and at the same time look back appraisingly at the performance that brought you there. In that time, the thirteenth chapter of Paul's first letter to the Corinthian church took on a different meaning for me. I have long before that memorised the chapter and it has always had special significance in my life but I have always wondered ... In the context of love, what does Paul mean with the words, "But when that which is perfect has come"? Does that phrase, refer to the Second Coming of Jesus or does it refer to a revelation of perfect love? I realised that this is not a teaching passage on eschatology. This has always been an ode to love so in this context of love, I wondered whether perfection did not refer to "when perfect LOVE has come"?
And I realised that Paul may have had an experience that changed his life and his way of thinking. Maybe he did touch perfect love and maybe that was when he did not see "through a glass darkly" anymore but when he realised that he can see "face to face" and that he can "know as he was known". For me, the show did go on. Through a miracle I did not disappear from the stage for my role required more appearances. But my existential crisis, had the required effect. This is the first time I have had the courage to write about it and I use the structure of Paul's poem to guide my ruminations: I have touched many people, started and successfully ran a couple of companies, a church, a school and a medical practice. I have raised three children who are doing well, built a successful marriage and been a good husband, father and grandfather. I have built a reasonable portfolio, and will leave a legacy. And still I feel there is something missing. I think I have been making a lot of noise; I think there were times when I sounded like a brass band with cymbals... I have prophesied accurately over many, I have laid out dreams, heard the audible voice of God, proclaimed the Gospel and seen many respond. I have seen lives changed by the evangelical message I have preached. I have spoken on behalf of God, loved as well as I could, always fought to interpret the hidden mysteries but I feel no satisfaction. It is as if I am nothing... I have given to the poor, the sick and the broken - my time, my money, my sanity, my self and in the process, I have sacrificed my family and my own desires. I have reached burnout three times, but I feel no sense of accomplishment. I feel it did not profit me at all ... I have looked at my life and it became crystal clear that my life had been about me and mine. On the surface it could have been mistaken as a sacrificial life but in reality, I was doing all of it for myself and the acid test was how I reacted when my efforts were unfruitful. How I tried to control people to change, to agree, to look up to me. How angry I got when they would not budge, or when my efforts were not appreciated. The centrality of my ego did not leave a lot of space for others. Not even for my children for my concern was more about my good parenthood being reflected in them than their happiness. Everything I touched was marred by my self-centeredness. The beautiful house that I had built had no foundation. About a year after my experience, for a moment, I connected with something else: A love without reason. For a couple of hours, I could love without a 'because'. Love flowed towards someone who had no merit as if it had its own momentum. I could only flow with it. I was hurt by a close friend like I had never been before or since and I floundered in the desert of unforgiveness and entitlement for a couple of days. And then, suddenly, when I was literally on my way to break the friendship and get my revenge, a love overtook my senses that I had never experienced before. I started walking to the telephone but before I had reached it, I was a changed man and you know what came out of my mouth? "Father forgive her ... she just did not understand". I had never known that I could love like this. I was oblivious to the gift I had always carried, so I had to perform and love by effort. But now I was plunged head long into a fast-flowing river. And all I had to do was to let the stream take me. I realised that this may be the River that flows from the Source and that the trees on its banks carry the secret for the healing of this brokenness called life. (Rev 22: 1-2) For a moment I saw the future. I saw inclusivity and oneness and healing of the ageless divisions. I saw peace and prosperity. I saw the healing of the nations. I saw what John described as the 'thousand years of peace'. A season where the Cosmic Christ will rule on the earth … where Love will be the government. (Rev 20: 2-6) The Love I saw for a moment is patient - it lives with failure and mistakes. It is so kind that it never looks for performance. It looks through the facades and see the essence of people and things. It is kind to itself and kind to all things, all people and to the moment. It is never entitled for it lives to give and never to get. Having no entitlement, it does not have to be jealous of others. It is always desiring to help others to succeed without looking for praise or gratitude, so it never misses it when it is not there. When we possess this love, even for a moment, we are not proud of our achievements for we are not looking to achieve anything and therefore we never parade our successes. For that moment, we give, we never take and because we are not interested to gain anything or fearful to lose anything, we are never provoked to anger. People in the River are never rude. You will notice in their speech that they think no evil nor remember any harm done to them. They always turn the other cheek, give what they cherish most; they never judge nor point a finger and they always only have good things to say about everybody else. This love can bear everything. It is centrally anchored in goodness so it always hopes, it always believes that good will come from all things; it recognises Goodness in all things and it endures to the end. It never fails. Most days I look at life in the mirror of my humanness and I just see my own reflection. But that day, when perfection came, I saw through my brokenness. My own light dimmed for a moment and I realised that I was looking through a two-way mirror. The veil of self, had hidden the glory of the Other. And when perfect Love became visible, everything changed. It was as if I suddenly became of age and for that moment, I could lay down my achievements like a man would walk away from the toys of his childhood. For a moment I looked at myself through the eyes of my Creator and suddenly there was nothing more to accomplish. It had all been done for me. For a moment ... I knew just as I am known. I saw through the eyes of God and I realised that I too am who I am for the I AM gave me a new name. And now I know that in the end all that remains is the flow of Love emptying itself. Like a water wheel driven by the flow of the River, faith pours out into hope and hope pours out into love and love pours out into me and as long as I keep on pouring out, I am part of the wheel. I am part of the Trinitarian Dance. Perfection was just a glimpse. My immersion in the River was momentary. But from that day, I had an inkling of what lies behind the final curtain. The curtain is a two-way mirror - a passage, not a veil. A passage into a permanent oneness with the River and with everything else that are connected to the River. And until I join it for eternity, there are three things that remain: faith, hope and love - yet love surpasses them all.