Thursday, June 15, 2017

Whispered Voices at Kafka's

It was an ending to a great saga – and a beginning, too.

My good friend and ministerial colleague, Geoff Burdell, was on the threshold of leaving Dublin, after serving here for two years as first a member, and then House Director, of Teach Bhríde here in the city.  Geoff's parents and his parish priest invited us to dinner, down the road in Rathmines, at a restaurant called Kafka's.

It was a great night of catching up, enjoying one another's company, listening to stories of the last two years, talking about golf (the men played 18 holes that day), and answering the myriad questions from the Burdells about life in Dublin's fair city.

Throughout all this merriment, about halfway through our Guinness, a young couple came in and sat at the table next to us.  I didn't notice them much, save for the fact that the woman seemed to be from South America (at least, that's what I guessed from the accent).

Just as the food arrived, we did a simple thing, instinctive to us who labour in the vineyard.  Someone suggested grace, we clasped hands quickly, bowed our heads, and entered into a bit of gratitude: not only for the great food, but for the precious gathering of friends, the completion of much good work.  We didn't think a moment about it – just doing what we normally do.

As we were preparing to leave, at the end of the evening, the South American lady (I was right; turns out she was from Brazil) leaned over and said a few words to Geoff's mom, Jeanette.  It went something like this: "I was so inspired that all of you said grace tonight.  I've wanted to do this here in this city, but never thought I could.  Seeing you do this – now I am going to say grace at restaurants as well."

Jeanette shared this with me as we left Kafka's.  The significance of it was not lost on me – what a moment of quiet, seemingly insignificant witness can do to shape a landscape of prayer.

Two days ago, Geoff concluded his time in Dublin, boarding an airplane, heading back to weddings in the Midwest, and soon after that to seminary studies with the Congregation of Holy Cross.  I shall miss him greatly.  And I'm sure he could speak of the many theophanies that took place over the past two years.  But I'm also dead certain that the most important ones are the smallest – the searing, naive inquisitions by his school kids, the conversations after mass, the unheralded moments when divinity broke through in unexpected ways.

A lot like Kafka's, where whispered voices announced gratitude and grace.

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