Sacrament meeting in a small ward, in a large coastal city.
He sits in the fourth row. He is in his seventies, perhaps close to eighty. I sit one row behind him, a little aside, and glance, discreetly, at his face.
An elderly face, but wholesome, blooming amidst the furrows. A face carved by decades of labor as a longshoreman in the city’s harbor.
He is an Elder, always has been. When the stake was finally organized, having reached the minimal level of priesthood potential, many were ordained High priests to fill leadership positions. Over the years releases and new callings further emptied the ranks of the Elders. He continued to serve in quiet, rotating assignments â€“ family history worker, assistant ward librarian, janitor. On Sundays, at priesthood, he joins the missionaries and a handful of men in their twenties and thirties.
I wonder how those decades of labor as a longshoreman have made his face so wholesome, blooming amidst the furrows. Tiny scratches on his skin betray an old-fashioned razor. A faint smile, one that endures for some unknown reason, sits anchored in the corners of his lips, emitting an aura of mercy, majestic and tender.
It is a face any stranger recognizes as familiar, someone known from times of yore.
A face telling you it is good to be alive.
A face to trust.
Out of this face, out of this accumulation of mature sensibilities and wisdom, a restrained exuberance flows. From this radiance the singing of the congregation draws depth as the old man joins in. From this radiance the bread and water take on enlivened meaning. From this radiance the dreary talks gather light.
But now, almost imperceptibly, his head bows forward, his eyelids close.
He becomes immensely accessible in the innocence of his slumber.
Even out of the flow of time, he is here.
His fingers, holding his glasses, slowly weaken their grip.
His wife, watching from experience and the corner of her eye, moves her arm, in a barely visible gesture, touches him gently, and he regains himself, and they exchange a furtive glance, which carries love.
No doubt his life has also seen misery and grief. Are not those wrinkles scars of former battles too? No doubt he suffers, perhaps even more at his age, at the sight of sorrow, of starving children, of sin.
And yet his countenance conveys that all calamities are ephemeral.
How much closer can we come to a semblance of the face of God?