Glimpses of Joy

THE JOY BEYOND the walls of the world more poignant than grief. Even in church you catch glimpses of it sometimes though church is apt to be the last place because you are looking too hard for it there. It is not apt to be so much in the sermon that you find it or the prayers or the liturgy but often in something quite incidental like the evening the choral society does the Mozart Requiem, and there is your friend Dr. X, who you know thinks the whole business of religion is for the birds, singing the Kyrie like a bird himself—Lord, have mercy, have mercy—as he stands there among the baritones in his wilted shirt and skimpy tux; and his workaday basset-hound face is so alive with if not the God he wouldn't be caught dead believing in then at least with his twin brother that for a moment nothing in the whole world matters less than what he believes or doesn't believe—Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison—and as at snow, dreams, certain memories, at fairy tales, the heart leaps, the eyes fill.  

- Originally published in Telling the Truth


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Sudden Snow

YOU WAKE UPON a winter morning and pull up the shade, and what lay there the evening before is no longer there the sodden gray yard, the dog droppings, the tire tracks in the frozen mud, the broken lawn chair you forgot to take in last fall. All this has disappeared overnight, and what you look out on is not the snow of Narnia but the snow of home, which is no less shimmering and white as it falls. The earth is covered with it, and it is falling still in silence so deep that you can hear its silence. It is snow to be shoveled, to make driving even worse than usual, snow to be joked about and cursed at, but unless the child in you is entirely dead, it is snow, too, that can make the heart beat faster when it catches you by surprise that way, before your defenses are up. It is snow that can awaken memories of things more wonderful than anything you ever knew or dreamed.  

- Originally published in Telling the Truth


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The Truth of Our Stories

IN THE LONG RUN the stories all overlap and mingle like searchlights in the dark. The stories Jesus tells are part of the story Jesus is, and the other way round. And the story Jesus is is part of the story you and I are because Jesus has become so much a part of the world's story that it is impossible to imagine how any of our stories would have turned out without him, even the stories of people who don't believe in him or even know who he is or care about knowing. And my story and your story are all part of each other too if only because we have sung together and prayed together and seen each other's faces so that we are at least a footnote at the bottom of each other's stories. 

In other words all our stories are in the end one story, one vast story about being human, being together, being here. Does the story point beyond itself? Does it mean something? What is the truth of this interminable, sprawling story we all of us are? Or is it as absurd to ask about the truth of it as it is to ask about the truth of the wind howling through a crack under the door?  

- Originally published in The Clown in the Belfry


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Forgiveness

WHEN SOMEBODY you've wronged forgives you, you're spared the dull and self-diminishing throb of a guilty conscience. 

When you forgive somebody who has wronged you, you're spared the dismal corrosion of bitterness and wounded pride. 

For both parties, forgiveness means the freedom again to be at peace inside their own skins and to be glad in each other's presence.  

- Originally published in Wishful Thinking


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Miracle

A CANCER INEXPLICABLY cured. A voice in a dream. A statue that weeps. A miracle is an event that strengthens faith. It is possible to look at most miracles and find a rational explanation in terms of natural cause and effect. It is possible to look at Rembrandt's Supper at Emmaus and find a rational explanation in terms of paint and canvas.  

Faith in God is less apt to proceed from miracles than miracles from faith in God.  

- Originally published in Wishful Thinking


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Sloth

SLOTH IS NOT TO be confused with laziness. A lazy man, a man who sits around and watches the grass grow, may be a man at peace. His sun-drenched, bumblebee dreaming may be the prelude to action or itself an act well worth the acting. 

A slothful man, on the other hand, may be a very busy man. He is a man who goes through the motions, who flies on automatic pilot. Like a man with a bad head cold, he has mostly lost his sense of taste and smell. He knows something's wrong with him, but not wrong enough to do anything about. Other people come and go, but through glazed eyes he hardly notices them. He is letting things run their course. He is getting through his life.  

- Originally published in Wishful Thinking


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The Kingdom

IF WE ONLY HAD eyes to see and ears to hear and wits to understand, we would know that the Kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness, beauty is as close as breathing and is crying out to be born both within ourselves and within the world; we would know that the Kingdom of God is what we all of us hunger for above all other things even when we don't know its name or realize that it's what we're starving to death for. The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis a strength seems to come to us that is greater than our own strength. The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it.  

- Originally published in The Clown in the Belfry


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A Book About Us

IT IS POSSIBLE to say that in spite of all its extraordinary variety, the Bible is held together by having a single plot. It is one that can be simply stated: God creates the world; the world gets lost; God seeks to restore the world to the glory for which he created it. That means that the Bible is a book about you and me, whom he also made and lost and continually seeks, so you might say that what holds it together more than anything else is us. You might add to that, of course, that of all the books that humanity has produced, it is the one which more than any other—and in more senses than one—also holds us together.  

- Originally published in The Clown in the Belfry


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Love

THE LOVE FOR equals is a human thing—of friend for friend, brother for brother. It is to love what is loving and lovely. The world smiles.  

The love for the less fortunate is a beautiful thing—the love for those who suffer, for those who are poor, the sick, the failures, the unlovely. This is compassion, and it touches the heart of the world. 

The love for the more fortunate is a rare thing—to love those who succeed where we fail, to rejoice without envy with those who rejoice, the love of the poor for the rich, of the dispossessed for those who seem to possess all. The world is always bewildered by its saints. 

And then there is the love for the enemy—love for the one who does not love you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain. The tortured's love for the torturer. This is God's love. It conquers the world.  

- Originally published in The Magnificent Defeat


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Funeral

IN ARAMAIC talitha cumi means "little girl, get up." It's the language Jesus and his friends probably used when they spoke to each other, so these may well be his actual words, among the very few that have come down to us verbatim. He spoke them at a child's funeral, the twelve-year-old daughter of a man named Jairus (Mark 5:35-43). 

The occasion took place at the man's house. There was plenty of the kind of sorrow you expect when anybody that young dies. And that's one of the great uses of funerals surely, to be cited when people protest that they're barbaric holdovers from the past, that you should celebrate the life rather than mourn the death, and so on. Celebrate the life by all means but face up to the death of that life. Weep all the tears you have in you to weep because whatever may happen next, if anything does, this has happened. Something precious and irreplaceable has come to an end and something in you has come to an end with it. Funerals put a period after the sentence's last word. They close a door. They let you get on with your life. 

The child was dead, but Jesus, when he got there, said she was only asleep. He said the same thing when his friend Lazarus died. Death is not any more permanent than sleep is permanent is what he meant apparently. That isn't to say he took death lightly. When he heard about Lazarus, he wept, and it's hard to imagine him doing any differently here. But if death is the closing of one door, he seems to say, it is the opening of another one. Talitha cumi. He took the little girl's hand, and he told her to get up, and she did. The mother and father were there, Mark says. The neighbors, the friends. It is a scene to conjure with. 

Old woman, get up. Young man. The one you don't know how you'll ever manage to live without. The one you don't know how you ever managed to live with. Little girl. "Get up," he says. 

The other use of funerals is to remind us of those two words. When the last hymn has been sung, the benediction given, and the immediate family escorted out a side door, they may be the best we have to make it possible to get up ourselves.  

- Originally published in Whistling in the Dark


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