Washington DistrictNewsletter-October 2011Oct2011_MQZZQNUI.docx
Perceptions from a Pewboy
(offered by a superintendent to the people with whom he journeys)
In the summer of 1985, I participated in a celebration of the Lord’s Supper at Arbutus Park Retirement Community in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. (I spent that summer working as a member of Arbutus Park’s program staff). Sitting beside me in that worship service was Ruth Physaglia, a 75-year-old woman who was in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Ruth did not talk much. But she sang. In fact, she sang a lot. The problem with her singing, however, was that there was only one song in her repertoire. That song was this:
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray. You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.
Ruth sang that song over and over again, sometimes a hundred times a day. It was her love song to life, I suppose—perhaps the last vestige of a once vibrant personality. I never heard Ruth sing any other song.
During the Communion service that I referenced in the first paragraph, the chaplain came to Ruth with the bread and cup. Not surprisingly, Ruth was singing her favorite song at the time (“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…”). In that moment, Ruth stared at the bread and cup as she quietly sang her song. Then, in a strange split-second, Ruth changed her tune. The change went something like this:
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are…..uh…..when skies are….uh.....uh…..Jesus….uh…..Jesus loves me......Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong. They are weak but he is strong.
Tears began to form in the eyes of Ruth Physaglia as she came to the chorus. “Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.” It was the first and last time that I heard Ruth sing those words. In fact, it was the first and last time that I heard her sing anything other than “You Are My Sunshine.”
Why had she changed her tune so suddenly? Who knows? My personal conviction, however, is that it had something to do with the living presence of Jesus Christ, making its way into Ruth’s soul through the bread and cup of the Lord’s Supper, in such a way that not even Alzheimer’s Disease could prevent the profundity of the moment.
Such is the mystical power of Eucharist. When believers partake of the bread and cup, Jesus finds his way into human souls, transforming lives and inspiring people to change their tune in all kinds of significant ways.
As we approach World Communion Sunday, I find myself thanking God for my memory of Ruth Physaglia. She speaks to me from my past and, in spirit, joins me at the Lord’s table.