Saturday, November 02, 2013

Not far from the Kingdom?

This inspiring story tells of a secular Jew in Boston, Lee Eiseman, who has been babying along an historic organ in a Catholic church for several decades. Finally it looks like the parish is going to scrape together the money to give the organ the full restoration it has badly needed all along. The organ wouldn't still be working today if it weren't for Eiseman, who has kept it going all this time with the proverbial chewing gum and string. Even on the evening of the concert announcing the beginning of the restoration project (for which some of the money still needs to be raised), Eiseman was up inside it with a miner's lamp on his head, fixing a sticky key.

I was especially struck by the briefly told story of how Eiseman came to be committed to this particular organ. At the time that he moved to Boston in the 1970's, he happened to be acquainted with a great organ builder and restorer, Charles B. Fisk. Fisk specially asked Eiseman to look after the organ at St. Mary's Church.
“Look after it and keep it alive, because it’s very important,” Fisk asked after Eiseman moved into the neighborhood, just a few blocks from the church.
So Eiseman agreed, and he kept his word, as a volunteer, even though it's doubtless turned out to cost him a lot more time and trouble than he ever imagined.

If one believes in the things that are valuable in themselves, how can one not be moved by that? "Look after it and keep it alive, because it's very important." I believe that. Eiseman obviously believes it too, as did Fisk, from whom he received his commission.

The news story says that Eiseman likens his surprising success in keeping the organ alive to the story of Hanukkah, in which God miraculously keeps the Menorah burning through eight days on an amount of oil that should have been far too little.

But there's an odd thing: Eiseman is a secular Jew, so presumably he doesn't really believe the Hanukkah story. Ah, well, perhaps it's just a sort of literary allusion.

Last evening I had a spirited and enjoyable discussion with a bunch of friends about the fate of virtuous non-Christians. What provision does God make for them? What does it mean to say that a person knows about Christianity and rejects it? How much does he have to know for his disbelief to count as rejection? What sort of grace can people receive who act on the light they presently possess even though they do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior? It was all conducted with that combination of humor and earnestness that make for the best of discussions of important things. I'm sure much heresy was uttered all around, including by me, and many conjectures were put forward.

I do not believe that Lee Eiseman is somehow a Christian without knowing it. But I will say this: The fact that he sees the value of that organ and has committed himself so faithfully to taking care of it must be, to him, a means of the grace God gives to all men who know and love the good, the true, and the beautiful. By means of his faithful service and his love of what is worthwhile, Eiseman may, we can hope and pray, be preparing the soil of his own heart to receive the Word of God. If that were the case, it would be no small matter.

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