Not long after Ed became my spiritual director, in the late 1990s, we both attended a clergy meeting here on these very grounds. The late William Sloane Coffin, one of the Church’s lions for justice and nonviolence, was speaking of wealth. “There are two ways you can be rich,” said Bill Coffin, “Have a lot of money, or have few needs.”
Ed understood this insight implicitly; he’d long before chosen the latter path of simplicity, a sturdy, gentle, God-trusting, Benedictine way of being in the world. But there was so much more to Ed’s vast wealth. His treasure was a heart of gratitude. Radiant appreciation. Ed lived as a man always coming to a table spread before him.
The Eucharist was for him far more than a weekly Sunday sacrament. It was a constant, moment-to-moment unfolding mystery and delight: the bread of life, just waiting to be taken, blessed, broken and shared. The embrace of a friend … the shimmer of leaves in quiet pond waters … the beeswax fragrance of a candle he’d lit (as he liked to say) “to remind us that we’re not alone” … a Sunday morning in this very place. Holy Communion, all of it, and a thousand times a thousand more, the Great Thanksgiving resounding in creation.
Is it any wonder the man’s favorite word was, “Wow”? That little syllable was his convenient shorthand for the doxology. Sometimes, I hear, he said “Zowie” instead of “Wow.”
Ed told the story of being in a hospital bed one Sunday morning not long ago, missing his Holy Wisdom worshiping community, feeling sorry and blue. A nursing assistant came in the room, noticed his battered Taizé prayer book, and a conversation about prayer ensued. A little later a second messenger of God entered, mopping the floor, and overhearing, was inspired to speak of her own faith practice. Suddenly those three – a Tibetan Buddhist, a Pentecostal from the Philippines, and Ed presiding at table – found themselves opened to sacred mystery in one another’s presence, as he later wrote it, “an astonishing moment of what I perceived to be festive, joyous appreciation. Strangers: bound in palpable spiritual embrace…. How mysterious,” he concluded, “the ways of divine interruption.”
Steeped in contemplative awareness of God through decades of prayer, Ed was more prepared than most of us to notice these interruptions. Through this sensitivity he developed a spiritual practice that is rare these days, the practice of taking great care over small things. Like slow walks and remembering the little details of people’s lives, and gardening and noticing the birds, and carefully penned notes in the mail (the reading of which always brought the gravelly warm sound of his voice home to me). On occasions, stuck in traffic on the infernal beltline highway, Ed would take the opportunity to turn “being stuck” into “being still,” as he silently offered intercessory prayers for all the drivers around him, sending compassion and care to all those human beings in their little boxes on wheels.
All the more, then, did he remember each of us, his friends. We were the ones on his long haul prayer list. In prayer, he was training his eyes to see the resurrection and his life to proclaim it. He was ever asking God for the chance just to commune with the world as it is, to share in its suffering and lighten its burden however he could, for this too is the meaning of Eucharist.
One of Ed’s fondest aspirations was to lose his ego altogether, to be so caught up “in wonder, love and praise” as to disappear entirely into Christ. He taught all his students that the false self must make way for the true one. But not by aggression, self-attack or inner harshness. The true self emerges by humility and kindness. By gentleness and laughter. By listening and wonder, by self-emptying love.
Joyfulness and appreciation were Ed’s sure and certain path to union with God. And we had the good fortune to watch him and be with him as he made that climb. I think he’d want us to experience this moment right now as a happy resting place very high up along that path.
Jesus said that a seed must die to sprout. The bread must be broken before it can be shared. How richly God scattered the seed and shared the bread with us – how wealthy we are – in Ed Beers. Wow.