“When a minister reads out of the Bible, I’m sure that at least nine times out of ten the people who happen to be listening all hear not what is really being read but only what they expect to hear read. And I think that what most people expect to hear read from the Bible is an edifying story, an uplifting thought, a moral lesson – something elevating, obvious, and boring. So that is exactly what very often they do hear. Only that is too bad because if you really listen – and maybe you have to forget that it is the Bible being read and a minister who is reading it – there is no telling what you might hear.” -Frederick Buechner
“So we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” -2 Corinthians 5:10
Another school year comes to a close. Another year in which by grace, I learn to ask the right questions. I learn to not only hear what other people are saying, but to understand what they are meaning, to understand the truth and the experiences underneath the arguments, underneath the small talk. Another year in which I am gently prodded and beckoned, never ravished, only wooed. Only shown the right path, not forced to take it.
Over coffee and eggs this morning, my friend Natasha was commenting that it seems unbelievable that we have spent two years in the Templeton Honors College, that half our time here is spent. One semester abroad, one semester back, and then a final year is all that is left. It seems that only a few weeks ago, I was climbing Mt. Marcy with a group of twelve or so strangers, apprehensive and unsure what the next four years would bring. Now I look around me at those strangers of Marcy and see only love, only charity and grace and wisdom so rich that I can’t look too hard, too intensely, or I’ll be overcome.
And yet the two years have past. The time has been spent, well-spent. Spent in train rides to Philadelphia, nights in the city seeing operas, plays, theater, music, history. In prayer and desperate, hopeless supplication. In celebration and song, in music so finely textured and beautiful. Spent doubled over in laughter, in endless jokes and nicknames. In tears and nervous breakdowns, in doubt and in despair, sometimes so sure that we wouldn’t make it through the coming weeks, to semester’s end. Alternately carrying each other and being carried.
Christ plays in ten thousand places, Hopkins writes, and I’ve never been more sure of this as I am now. Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his. Christ plays in the manifold blessings bursting around us, and in the crises of our own experience. Christ plays in the eyes of children, in the hobble of the old man, in the isolation and loneliness of the confused youth, in the suffering of the cripple. Flannery O’Connor mentioned that for the Christian, the whole, ultimate, true reality is the Incarnation. The letters Christ has written to me in human hearts have been letters that will be forever recorded in my memory, even when the absence of those incarnate letters leaves the sad, sad void. Christ has been lovely to me in eyes not his – in the eyes of persons.
And, as Buechner writes, time is not only measured in intervals but in quality. Time is measured by hours, but we also speak of time adjectively: good times, difficult times, rich times. So for me, the past two years, so unmeasurable in interval, only bespeak their quantification by qualification. I can only tell that it has been two years by looking over the hill to the meadow that is the past and watching myself change in my memory, calling to mind those moments, those turning points that I could never anticipate would prove so important. The lecture in which Dr. Putnam explained that the metaphors that Christ uses to describe truth are akin to manifold windows – we look through each to acquire a more comprehensive understanding of the truth, but one could never say that their window is the way, the description and explanation of salvation. Fields planted and harvested, Christ paying a ransom, yeast mixed into dough – all different windows to understanding. The problems begin when one metaphor is prized at the expense of all the others.
Or perhaps the moment that Dr. Yonan declared that we must de-politicize literature – we must adopt the counter-cultural narrative that humans across time aren’t so very different, and perhaps, instead of just a cultural artifact that I peer through a Marxist lens to see, I might actually learn something about the nature of humanity from Shakespeare, from Yeats and Eliot and all the rest.
Or maybe the time when during our debate, my roommate commented, offhandedly, that we learn how to live by living, that mistakes can be redeemed, that life is, in a sense, trial and error. Caught up in doubt and regret, sure that my mistakes were unredeemable, I listened as she spoke: all things can be redeemed, for Christ transforms even the content of suffering and the content of sin.
And finally, sitting in the office of my dear biblical studies professor, crying that God had given me all the wrong gifts – that I should love social work and welfare, but instead I love music and poetry (“what use can those possibly be?”). And his gentle reminder that the woman who anointed Christ’s feet “has done a beautiful thing” to Him, that we must do the work that our hands find to do, that all our work is to be beautiful for Christ.
There is never a split-second decision, we discussed in a Frost poetry hour. All our “split-second” decisions have been years in the making, through tiny turns, through small, seemingly insignificant experiences, all leading to this moment. And therein lies the reminder and the consolation that I may never know the result of my encouraging other people to seek for understanding, to love wisdom, to love words of beauty and the sound of harmonious voices. The work that I have found that I love is the work of words and the search for understanding, the never-ending quest to find, to ask, to seek. And so I must do the work that my hands find to do.
With deep, deep gratitude,
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be – world without end.