Commentary by Rev. Gordon Stewart, Pastor of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, Minn.
The memorial service for pop star Michael Jackson has tentatively been set for Tuesday, July 7. Like many people, commentator Gordon Stewart heard the news last week while driving in the car.
It was on the drive home from the black water of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness that I heard the breaking news of Michael Jackson's death.
I had spent the week there with a group of family and friends -- sharing the cooking, hanging out, swimming and canoeing in the black waters of Lake One. I drove home with two primary memories. First, I had been fascinated by the black water, whose surface was as clear as any mirror but whose bottom you could not see - a kind of metaphor, I thought, for the mystery and depth of life itself.
The other memory was sitting on the large porch by the edge of that black water lake. Five of us who had risen early in the morning sipped coffee and pondered a question from Peter Block's book Community: the Structure of Belonging The question: "What is the crossroads you are faced with at this point in your life?"
The two oldest talked about the choice between graceful acceptance or denial of our aging -- and they shared the joy of unexpected sources of creativity. For the 28 year-old and the 31 year-old, the two roads of Frost's poem were diverging in a yellow wood...should they pour their life into a career and being all that they can be...or should they choose the path of a more balanced life, an eight-to-five job allowing more time for hobbies, leisure, friends and family. The last person to share was a 32 year-old diagnosed three years ago with incurable terminal cancer. For her, the crossroads was between hoping and planning for a longer life or planning according to the shorter lifespan that the science projected.
That morning on the porch was an intimate look inside the deep places of five people. It was risky. It was thoughtful. Each of us stood before roads that diverged, each road different and yet the spiritual challenge very much the same: to be one's own true self whatever decision we would make, to live as fully as we could between the boundaries of birth and death. Then, on the drive home, came the news that Michael Jackson had died.
What happened to him? How did he get so lost? When and how did he lose himself along the way? He never got to be a kid. Was he was looking for himself? Was the performer reflected on the surface of the black water all he could see? And what lay there in the depths of those black waters, the dark places beneath the social mirror? Looking for companionship rather than applause, he would steal away from his gilded compound in the middle of the night hoping to meet some stranger he could talk with, some ordinary Joe, someone just like the starless, ordinary self he had lost long ago on the stage of public applause and looked for in the deafening silence that came over him when he was alone at 4 a.m.
As I drove, I thought of Michael -- that wonderful child and young adult we loved - and the words of the psalmist: "If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me" (Psalm 139).
No one will ever know what the deepest and darkest black water was in Michael's life. His death is a great sorrow. I hope he's finally found his peace.
-The Rev. Gordon Stewart is pastor of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, Minnesota and Moderator of the Shepherd of the Hill Dialogues.