“Oh, Lassie…” Father Targonski clutched his hands to his chest, visibly crushed. In the darkness of the late Fallujah evening, he bent down and crawled among the rocks.
During a tour in Afghanistan, my friend Travis Lassiter (RPSN) was a US Navy chaplain bodyguard for the Anglican priest. He accompanied Father Targonski from FOB to FOB (“Forward Operating Base”) where they shared the elements of communion with any willing Marines.
After each opportunity to provide the Eucharist, Travis noticed that the priest refilled the cup and prepared new wafers for the Marines. After administering the elements at one such FOB, when the priest handed him the cup and the bowl, Travis tossed away the pieces that were left in the bowl and dumped out the cup to help with the process.
Thus Father Targonski, on the front lines of an active war zone, is on his hands and knees collecting the broken and discarded pieces of a wafer that represents and at the same time somehow is the broken and discarded body of Jesus Christ.
This isn’t a “How dare you, Travis” story or a “You should have known better” story. As Travis related the story to me, neither of those were the message of the priest. He deeply felt the experience and went about the business of picking up the pieces without any sense of rejection or correction. As it happens, the priest and Lassie are still friends.
The more I listened and thought about the story, the more I identified with it. I’ve never met Father Targonski, but I can hear him saying, “Oh, Chris….” I can see him clutching his hands to his chest, heartbroken. I can hear him crawling around in the dark around me looking for something that I misunderstood and cast away.
I’ve never been to a FOB or to Fallujah. I’ll likely never accompany an Anglican priest delivering a sacred experience to the valiant men and women who put their lives on the line for me. I’ll never know the front lines of military action.
But I do know what it means to misunderstand. I know what it means to ignorantly throw away something sacred. I know what it means to lose sight of the deepest things. I know what it means to cast aside the holy and to break a covenant. I know what it means to face a Father, visibly crushed, hands clutched to His chest who desires nothing more than to pick up the pieces that I have casually discarded.
He does pick up the pieces, even the pieces of Himself. He does ache for us in our ignorance and show us Himself even then. He does give Himself into our hands even when we don’t know what we are holding. God entrusts each of us with so much of Himself. We hold Him in our relationships, in our gifts and passions, in our roles and in our persons. He has broken Himself for us, given Himself to us, and poured Himself out for us.
May we know what we hold. May we cherish what we have been given. And in those moments when we do not, may we find our way to our knees and pick up the pieces.