The Sacrament of Subway

     Have you ever had the Holy Spirit completely and unapologetically explode into your life?  Such an explosion happened to me a few weeks ago and there is a part of me that will not rest until I share it with you.
     Tuesdays are my busiest days this semester at Columbia Theological Seminary.  My identities as student, teaching assistant, preacher, and musician seem to converge (and sometimes collide!) on this particular day of the week.  It usually looks something like this....
     I wake up around 7:30 and have breakfast and run through my Hebrew vocabulary.  At 9:00 A.M. I have Hebrew plenary and then immediately leave at 10:00 A.M. to spend a couple of hours at one of two of my favorite coffee joints to get some reading done.  After grabbing a quick bite to eat for lunch I usually spend an hour or so preparing for choir rehearsal at 3:30 (I am the Choir Director here at the seminary).  Just as rehearsal finishes, I serve as a teaching assistant and lead a one-hour practicum on the art of reading scripture aloud.  Finally, I then serve as a teaching assistant for the introduction to worship class from 6:00 to 9:30.  I'm sure that this schedule would be exhausting for anyone but the rather strong introvert inside of me often finds itself retreating to the fetal position by the end of the day!
     I have found a particular ritual that has helped me during the chaos of my Tuesdays.  I have a very small window between 5:30 and 6:00 where, every Tuesday, I drive to the Subway that is in the Walmart a mile or so away from the campus.
     On this particular Tuesday in question, I was even more frazzled than what is normal on such a day.  I ran out of Campbell Hall after dismissing my fellow colleagues, my steps deliberately leading me towards my silver Ford Fiesta.  I was on a mission and I would be damned if I let either God or man deter me from my goal.  As I stepped on the clutch to bring my engine to life, I sped out of the parking lot, causing a group of innocent squirrels running for cover.  As Murphy's Law would have it, I got stuck behind one of those God-forsaken MARTA buses.  The squirrels had probably just begun to cautiously poke their heads out of their holes back on campus as I frantically pulled into a parking spot at Walmart, cursing the people who had left their empty shopping carts in the two spots closer to the building.
     As I power walked into the Subway, feeling important with my green Society of Biblical Literature tote bag over my shoulder, I approached the counter of the Subway to receive my nourishment to finish my day.  I had finished the race, I had fought the good fight!  
     But....(there's always a but!), a woman with her two children had preceded me in line and, of course, there was only one person working the place.  As I muttered some rather non-reverent words under my breath, I watched as the woman working the counter slowly, methodically, and perhaps even lovingly placed each slice of meat, each dash of pepper, each portion of tomato, on the three sandwiches.
     Really!?!? I thought, you've got to be kidding me!  Can't you see how important I am?  Can't you see I'm in a rush so I can go continue to do the work of the Lord?  
     And happened.  A feeling which I find hard to explain erupted within me.  I caught myself (or, perhaps better said, I was myself caught).  I stopped.  I looked at the sandwich and a voice inside of me said, wow, that really is a beautiful sandwich.  A beautiful, grace-filled calm surrounded me as a warm smile crept upon my lips.  For the rest of the evening, tired though I was, a peace that passes understanding fell upon my shoulders.  A peace rained down on my frantic mindset because it really was a beautiful meal prepared by loving hands.
     In the weeks since this explosion of the Spirit, I have come to interpret this event as a sacramental one.  John Calvin speaks of the sacraments as moments when we, as God's people, are lifted up by the Holy Spirit to gain a grace-filled glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven.  This explosion of the Holy Spirit into my very being on this evening at Subway was a sacramental one for I was rather physically lifted out of myself and placed within a larger narrative.  As I watched this one worker prepare sandwiches for a mother and her family, I was reminded that she was not the first person to break bread with loving hands.  Christ invites us to the table to give us broken bread offered with loving hands, hands that lift us out of ourselves and into one another.
     Friends, the presence of the Holy Spirit in the moment of the sacraments forces us to reinterpret and re-imagine the narrative of our lives.  Perhaps, then, a normal piece of bread amid the chaos of our lives might even place upon us the grace we need to continue the call.  
                           Grace and peace,

Stephen Fearing

Stephen was born in 1988 in Cookeville, TN, where his parents met whilst attending Tennessee Tech. Shortly after, they moved to Dalton, Georgia where they put down roots and joined First Presbyterian Church, the faith family that taught Stephen that he was first and foremost a beloved child of God. It was this community that taught Stephen that it was OK to have questions and doubts and that nothing he could do could every possibly separate him from the love of God. In 1995, his sister, Sarah Kate, joined the family and Stephen began his journey as a life-long musician. Since then, he has found a love of music and has found this gift particularly fitting for his call to ministry. Among the instruments that he enjoys are piano, trumpet, guitar, and handbells. Stephen has always had a love of singing and congregation song. An avid member of the marching band, Stephen was the drum major of his high school's marching band. In 2006, Stephen began his tenure at Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC where he majored in Religion and minored in History. While attending PC, Stephen continued to explore his love of music by participating in the Wind Ensemble, Jazz Band, Jazz Combo, Jazz Trio, as well as playing in the PC Handbell ensemble and playing mandolin and banjo PC's very own bluegrass/rock group, Hosegrass, of which Stephen was a founding member (Hosegrass even released their own CD!). In 2010, Stephen moved from Clinton to Atlanta to attend Columbia Theological Seminary to pursue God's call on his life to be a pastor in the PC(USA). During this time, Stephen worked at Trinity Presbyterian Church, Silver Creek Presbyterian Church, Central Presbyterian Church, and Westminster Presbyterian Church. For three years, Stephen served as the Choir Director of Columbia Theological Seminary's choir and also served as the Interim Music Director at Westminster Presbyterian Church. In 2014, Stephen graduated from Columbia with a Masters of Divinity and a Masters of Arts in Practical Theology with an emphasis in liturgy, music, and worship. In July of 2014, Stephen was installed an ordained as Teaching Elder at Shelter Island Presbyterian Church in Shelter Island, NY. Later that year, Stephen married the love of his life, Tricia, and they share their home on Shelter Island with their Golden Doodle, Elsie, and their calico cat, Audrey. In addition to his work with the people who are Shelter Island Presbyterian Church, Stephen currently serves as a commission from Long Island Presbytery to the Synod of the Northeast and, beginning in January of 2016, will moderate the Synod's missions team.