A couple of months ago I handed over a rather plain fountain pen to one of our church members, Bill Engels, and asked him if he thought he could repair it. I knew Bill had recently taken up the hobby of making ink pens and pencil sets and thought perhaps he could repair this old pen. This vintage pen has been in an equally old cup with other artifacts from the past. It belonged to my grandfather or my great-grandfather. I have never known it to write and it has been nothing more to me than a sentimental antique that reminds me of family. Bill took on this project and soon began to give me reports on its progress – yes, progress. Apparently this was not going to be a simple job. I learned from Bill that it was from 1946 and Parker discontinued this particular model the next year in favor of something more modern. Today Bill presented me with the pen, repaired and ready to write.
The pen itself is plain and unassuming. It has a black barrel with nickel plated cap and a very simple nib that has to be dipped in an ink well and filled. I am not sure what my grandfather paid for it, but I am sure it was a small yet necessary investment for a farmer. I am certain that with this pen he figured and refigured milk prices, the worth of cows, calves and other livestock, and made notes to himself. Unlike today where people give pens away, this was a pen that was kept and used for years, perhaps a couple of decades until finally it was retired for the inexpensive and easier to use ballpoints.
If a pen could talk, I wonder what stories this one would tell. My grandfather came out of World War II broken hearted over his brother Robert DeLoach, an infantryman in Germany killed in 1945. Perhaps that pen wrote thank you notes a year later to concerned family and friends. I am sure my grandmother used it to write birthday wishes to neighbors. Did the pen note the difficulties of maintaining a farm while children were growing up and leaving home? I suppose the pen made a few grocery lists and kept the checkbook balanced. If a pen could talk, I wonder what stories this one would tell.
What story will you write? All of us have stories to tell: stories of tragedy and comedy; stories that have brutal endings and stories that are not yet finished. Everyday our life is a story being written. Much of what goes on around us we have little control, still we are part of the unfolding narrative. I confess that most of the events in my life that I think at the time are “headliners” become forgettable. Either I worried too much or exaggerated its value. Those events worth writing about, however, tend to be the simple moments unplanned and unrehearsed where the Holy transcends into the ordinary. Some of you may call them “God moments” – such moments are when we pay attention to how God is present to us in a sustaining or nourishing way.
There is a beautiful story of Jacob who sleeps and dreams of angels ascending and descending. When he wakes he says, “Surely the LORD is in this place – and I did not know it!” (Genesis 28:16) He then set up a stone as a memorial and called it Bethel which means in Hebrew the “house of God.” Like the pen entrusted to me, I will write my own story. There will be sadness, but there will also be joy. Through it all, I hope to see in my waking moments the mysterious presence of God, sustaining, nourishing, leading and holding. Soon enough my time will come to hand the pen over to the next generation waiting to write their story. May they have “Bethel moments.”