Mr. Appleton was our phys-ed teacher in grammar school, lo, these many years ago. He was our first coach, only we didn’t call him coach—what we called him, actually, was “Crabby Appleton,” after the cartoon character some of you remember. And neither did we call what we did under his daily supervision “phys ed.” Some of us called that hour “Recess.” “Play period” is what I called it for the longest time. And maybe that was what made him crabby, that we referred to his class as “play period,” him a grown man and all with a college degree and everything.
Anyway, what I remember most about Mr. Appleton is this magnifying glass he carried around in his pocket, not very big; and not very often but some days he would take it out and invite an unwitting student over to watch it work. “Hold out your hand,” he’d say, and he’d take gentle hold, turn it palm-down. Then he would postition the glass between the child’s hand and...the sun... and at first a dime-sized spot of light would appear, but gradually Mr. Appleton would focus the spot. He’d move the glass up or down, and the spot would get smaller and brighter and smaller and brighter, until...OUCH! the child would squeal, and run away.
You probably couldn’t get by with that kind of thing these days, but that was a different era. And he wasn’t trying to hurt anyone, not really--I don’t think he was--but he taught us something. Or began to teach me something, anyway, that there are lenses which can catch the light which shines on us all the time, albeit diffused and easy to take for granted—certain kinds of lenses can gather the light and focus it into something narrower and more powerful—and more dangerous, really, depending on where you point the beam. On a dry day, I guess Mr. Appleton could have started a grass fire if he had wanted to. It was all of it sunlight, but through his magnifying glass it became a laser almost.
And thank you, Mr. Appleton, for giving me a picture of the Sacraments, because that’s exactly what these gestures are: God’s life-giving presence and love are all around us all the time, but these baths and meals are the ways in which that love gets focused and just as lasers can split rocks, the Sacraments can bust-up our hard heads, can light-up the darkness in our souls like a beacon, can set our hearts or the world on fire.
And it is wondrous to behold... Or dangerous, depending on your view.