Lost & Found

Kathryn Schulz has written a beautiful book about death and love called Lost & Found. In it she muses on the loss of her father and the finding of her wife and how those emotion-filled events bear on each other.

  • Some months after C. and I got married, we finally sat down to look through all the photographs from our wedding. We were in the middle of delightedly reexperiencing it when we came upon one of my mother and me, standing side by side on the waterfront, beaming. It is a beautiful picture, and the elation in both of us is evident. But looking at it after the fact, all I could see was the vast expanse of the Chesapeake Bay on my other side, a wide blue emptiness where my father should have been. It was the starkest possible representation of the way that grief had reorganized my family; his absence was so obvious that he almost seemed to have been edited out of the picture. I felt a sudden and excruciating double anguish—for how much I missed my father, and for how much my father, gone at that point for under two years, had already missed. That picture has been on the wall beside me the whole time I have been writing this book. After the shock of first seeing it wore off, I came to love it very much, partly for the way it makes my loss visible and beautiful—it feels like the closest thing I have to a picture of my father at my wedding—but chiefly because, in a single image, it honors my joy together with my grief.

Lost & Found, 219-220 (Random House, 2022) [amazon]. The previous post captures my highlights from my Kindle, but I recommend the entire book very highly.

Lost & Found

Kathryn Schulz, Lost & Found (Random House, 2022):

  • Later, when I looked it up, I learned that there was a reason “lost” felt so apt to me. I had always assumed that, if we were referring to the dead, we were using the word figuratively—that it had been appropriated by those in mourning and contorted far beyond its original meaning. But that turns out not to be true. The verb “to lose” has its taproot sunk in sorrow; it is related to the “lorn” in “forlorn.” It comes from an Old English word meaning to perish, which comes from an even older word meaning to separate or cut apart. The modern sense of misplacing an object only appeared later, in the thirteenth century; a hundred years after that, “to lose” acquired the meaning of failing to win. In the sixteenth century we began to lose our minds; in the seventeenth century, our hearts. The circle of what we can lose, in other words, began with our own lives and each other and has been steadily expanding ever since. This is how loss felt to me after my father died: like a force that constantly increased its reach, gradually encroaching on more and more terrain. Eventually I found myself keeping a list of all the other things I had lost over time as well, chiefly because they kept coming back to mind. A childhood toy, a childhood friend, a beloved cat who went outside one day and never returned, the letter my grandmother wrote me when I graduated from college, a threadbare but perfect blue plaid shirt, a journal I’d kept for the better part of five years: on and on it went, a kind of anti-collection, a melancholy catalogue of everything of mine that had ever gone missing. pp. 4-5. My mother gave up early on the project of convincing him not to rile us up at bedtime; it was his job to read aloud to us each night, and he accomplished the task with extravagant gestures, dramatic voices, much thumping of the knees on which we were perched, and an exhilarating disregard for the text on the page. p. 9. Like being mortal, being slightly scatterbrained is part of the human condition: we have been losing stuff so routinely for so long that the laws laid down in Leviticus include a stipulation against lying about finding someone else’s lost property. Modernity has only made this problem worse. In the developed world, even people of modest means now live in conditions of historically unfathomable abundance, and every extra item we own is an extra item we can lose. Technology, too, has exacerbated the situation, rendering us chronically distracted while simultaneously supplying us with enormous numbers of additional losable things. p. 12
  • In The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Freud describes “the unconscious dexterity with which an object is mislaid on account of hidden but powerful motives,” including “the low estimation in which the lost object is held, or of a secret antipathy towards it or towards the person that it came from.” A colleague of his put the matter more plainly: “We never lose what we value highly.” As explanations go, the scientific one is persuasive but uninteresting. Although it makes clear why we are more likely to misplace things when we’re exhausted or distracted, it sheds no light on how it actually feels to lose something, and it provides only the most abstract and impractical notion of how not to do so. (Focus! And while you’re at it, adjust your genes or your circumstances to improve your memory.) The psychoanalytic account, by contrast, is intriguing, entertaining, and theoretically useful (Freud pointed out how swiftly certain people of his acquaintance found something again “once the motive for its being mislaid had expired”) but, in the majority of cases, unconvincing. The most charitable thing to be said about it is that it wildly overestimates our species: absent subconscious motives, apparently, we would never lose anything at all. That is patently false—but, like many psychological claims, impossible to actually falsify. Maybe my father lost his baseball tickets because he was disappointed in Cleveland’s chronically lousy performance. Maybe my sister loses her wallet so often due to a deep-seated discomfort with capitalism. Freud would stand by such propositions, and no doubt some losses really are occasioned by unconscious emotion, or at least can be plausibly explained that way after the fact. But experience tells us that such cases are exceptional. The better explanation, most of the time, is simply that life is complicated and minds are limited. We lose things because we are flawed, because we are human, because we have things to lose. pp. 14-15
  • But my father had developed, instead, a compensatory ability to be cheerfully resigned to their disappearance. That is an admirable attitude—close, I think, to what the poet Elizabeth Bishop meant by “the art of losing.” The line comes from “One Art,” a poem I have always loved, and one of the most famous reckonings with loss in all of verse. In it, Bishop suggests that minor losses like keys and watches can help prepare us for more serious ones—in her case, two cities, a continent, and the lover to whom the poem is addressed. At first, this claim seems preposterous. It is one thing to lose a wedding ring and something else entirely to lose a wife, and we are rightly reluctant to equate them. Bishop knows this, of course, and in the poem’s final lines, when she contemplates the loss of her lover, the art of losing suddenly shifts from something that “isn’t hard to master” to something that’s “not too hard to master.” The italics are mine, but the concession is hers, and it undermines her overall assertion so much that it is easy to read the poem as ironic—as acknowledging, in the end, that the loss of a loved one is incommensurable with any other. Yet it is also possible to hear something else in those final lines: a reluctant admission that all of us must somehow learn to live with even our most devastating losses. In that reading, Bishop’s poem is perfectly sincere. It suggests that if we cultivate equilibrium around everyday losses, we might someday be able to muster a similar serenity when we lose more important things. That claim isn’t preposterous at all. Entire spiritual traditions are built on the idea of nonattachment, on the belief that we can learn to face even our gravest losses with acceptance, equilibrium, and grace. pp. 15-16
  • In the end, this may be why certain losses are so shocking: not because they defy reality but because they reveal it. p. 19
  • And yet if “to lose” originally meant to separate, my father was increasingly separated from the man he once had been. He no longer practiced law, although he had a passionate work ethic and had always cherished his colleagues and his job. He no longer traveled, although he loved to see the world, because too many injuries and difficulties befell him when he tried. He no longer drove, although all his life he had maintained a kind of happy teenage pleasure in doing so. He had never been an athlete but he had always been vigorous; now he could barely walk to the end of the block. On top of all of this there was the pain, and pain’s dreadful handmaiden, shame. Even now, I turn away slightly from the memory of my father, sweating visibly in a restaurant from a sudden increase in the agony caused by that nerve in his neck, needing to make it to the bathroom quickly but being unable to do so. p. 39
  • Like death more generally, my father’s own was somehow both predictable and shocking. pp. 40-41
  • All of this makes dying sound meaningful and sweet—and it is true that, if you are lucky, there is a seam of sweetness and meaning to be found within it, a vein of silver in a dark cave a thousand feet underground. Still, the cave is a cave. We had, by then, spent two vertiginous, elongated, atemporal weeks in the hospital. At no point during that time did we have a diagnosis, still less a prognosis. At every point, we were besieged with new possibilities, new tests, new doctors, new hopes, new fears. Every night we arrived home exhausted and talked through what had happened as if doing so might guide us through the following day. Then we woke up and resumed the routine of the parking garage and the ICU check-in desk and the twenty-four-hour Au Bon Pain, only to discover that, beyond those things, there was no routine at all, nothing whatsoever to help us prepare or plan. It was like trying to dress every morning for the weather in a nation we had never heard of. Living through the death of someone you love is such an intimate act that, inevitably, the memory of it inheres in odd, specific things: the voicemail you left for your cousin that he will never hear; the television show that was on in the background when the phone with its terrible foreknowledge began to ring; the darkened windowpane in the front door, turning red and then blue and then red again from the police lights revolving silently outside it. Yet for all this variability, a kind of sameness shapes the experience of death for many of us today, because so much of it takes place in hospitals. A hundred thousand plots unfold in just one setting; it is as if we had all wandered into the same upsetting dream. And while a hospital can be, in many ways, a good place to die, it is a strange and difficult place to begin to mourn. pp. 44-45
  • It would have been boring if it hadn’t also been horrible; something extremely urgent was happening, yet there was nothing whatsoever to do. p. 45
  • On and on it went like this, day after day. I was conscious of how lucky we were that the era of limited visiting hours and one-guest-at-a-time policies had passed, just as I am conscious, writing this now, of how lucky we were that the era of no guests at all was not yet upon us: that my father did not sicken and die during the coronavirus pandemic, when everyone’s grief was compounded by isolation—by the loss, on top of everything else, of the chance to sit with your loved one and say, “I’m right here.” It was a privilege and a comfort to be at my father’s side throughout his final weeks; if he was going to be confined to that room for so long, we wanted to be with one another, and with him. pp. 46-47
  • [The hospice room] was smaller and simpler than the one in the ICU, and much quieter. A few times a day, a nurse slipped in to check on him, but otherwise, we were alone with our thoughts and each other and, for one final spell, with my father. To my surprise, I found it comforting to be with him during this time, to sit by his side and hold his hand and watch his chest rise and fall with a familiar little riffle of snore. It was not, as they say, unbearably sad; on the contrary, it was bearably sad—a tranquil, contemplative, lapping kind of sorrow. I thought, as it turns out mistakenly, that what I was doing during those days was making my peace with his death. But I have learned since then that even one’s unresponsive and dying father is, in some extremely salient way, still alive. p. 49
  • This type of circular mourning, the grieving of grief itself, is perfectly normal and possibly inevitable yet also misguided and useless. There is no honor in feeling awful and no betrayal in feeling better, and no matter how dark and salted and bitter cold your grief may be, it will never preserve anything about the person you mourn. Despite how it sometimes feels, it has never kept anyone alive, not even in memory. If anything, it keeps them dead: eventually, if you cannot stop mourning, the person you love will come to be made only of grief. p. 67
  • I was vexed to discover, after my father died, how useless I was when called upon to console someone else in the face of death, how almost impossible it was to say anything at all that, in accuracy or helpfulness, could best the average platitude. Even when I was talking with my sister, whose sorrow pains me more than my own and who is the only other person on the planet to grieve my father as a father—even then, I don’t think I ever once said anything remotely comforting or useful. p. 69
  • “Where there was him, there is nothing,” I wrote of my father earlier, and that is true, with the caveat that “nothing” is not a neutral blankness. In the lane behind my house, there is a tree where I once saw an owl; now, every time I pass it, I look up automatically. That is something like the nothingness left behind after death: the place in the tree where the owl is not. pp. 72-73
  • The world is enormous in childhood. Even a modest suburban backyard contains its secret dangers and kingdoms; in the place Billy grew up, where a hundred acres regularly separated one neighbor from another, a walk home could span epochs and civilizations. The only thing larger than the land was the sky, obliged as it was to fill up all the space that the ground, which stretched almost perfectly flat from horizon to horizon, did not. pp. 79-80
  • How are we supposed to find love? For me, as for many people, this felt like a fraught question when I was single. Love is not like a lost object, after all: we can’t locate it by retracing our steps or thoroughly searching our surroundings. But it is also not like the solution to a problem; we may think about it for a very long time, we may imagine it in vivid detail, but we will never find it inside our own mind. It is something like a missing person—in fact, it is quite literally a missing person—but the search area in which we must look for it is essentially unbounded. It could be waiting at the local coffee shop, or three states away, or on staff at a hospital in Senegal, or at a holiday party you’re not very enthusiastic about attending, forty cold, rainy blocks from home. To make matters worse, in the majority of cases, it was last seen, by you, never. pp. 105-106
  • At one point, single and well into my thirties, it occurred to me that the things that made me happy in the short term—holing up at home reading, heading out alone on long trail runs, vanishing into the quiet of my work—were never going to lead me to the things I wanted in the long term: a partner, children, a home full of people I loved. That was a sobering realization. By that stage of my life, the solitude I cherished was already shading more and more often into loneliness, and with increasing frequency I found myself warding off sadness about not having a family of my own. pp. 107-108
  • [H]ope never materializes anywhere without fear having stowed away inside it. p. 122
  • [I]n my experience, you will seldom find a happy couple that does not take pleasure in some seemingly shallow thing they have in common. p. 131
  • It was the Shore that gave us those great patriots Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, while also giving us the men and women who enslaved them. The failure of Reconstruction to reconcile those parties and redress those wrongs lingers in the region, as in so much of the nation, in the form of persistent racial injustice, widespread de facto segregation, and scattered Confederate flags. But other and better southern influences linger on the Shore as well: in the instinct for hospitality; in the August-afternoon pace of life; in a population made up about equally of the congenitally reticent and natural raconteurs; in the elaborately preserved and frequently recited communal genealogies whereby So-and-so’s granddaddy worked with Great-uncle Jack on your mother’s side at that mechanic shop out on Hog Barn Road back before your Aunt Lula was born. The South or some part of it also lingers in the accent in which all this gets recounted, which sounds like the city of Pittsburgh sold off its consonants to the Carolinas. p. 139
  • Most of us fit only partially into our past selves, and most of us are only somewhat at home in our former homes. Even if we love them, even if we sometimes long for them, even if we know them down to the last ancient orange spatula in the kitchen utensil drawer, we inevitably outgrow them; the world is so big that anywhere you’re from eventually becomes parochial by comparison. It’s not just that once you leave your hometown behind, you encounter very different people and places from those you first knew. It is that your own past life starts to look different as well. In that sense, the self-consciousness I felt about my childhood home was really (as it so often is) something closer to other-consciousness—an awareness of how a place so familiar to me would look to someone who had never been there before. p. 142
  • By then, she lived, like so many people who venture far from their roots, in two largely non-intersecting worlds. Certain core parts of herself were invisible or inexplicable to most of the people she had grown up with; others were opaque or alien to those she met as an adult. p. 143
  • Eventually, inevitably, couples lead largely overlapping lives. Over time, you start to share more and more things: your friends, your families, a home, a morning routine, a favorite restaurant, an annoying neighbor, that winter when the pipes kept freezing, the cat who liked to sleep on top of the refrigerator, the first Christmas, the forty-fifth Seder, that terrible health scare, the time you got a flat tire on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. And yet, even with this steady expansion of common ground, the enduring challenge of every relationship is to love across difference. That remains true no matter how similar you and your beloved might be, or might have become. pp. 144-145
  • That includes you: your beloved is not like you. No one ever makes their peace with this fact immediately, and no one ever makes it just once. We are called on over and over to remember that the person we love does not always have the same thoughts, feelings, frames of reference, reactions, needs, fears, and desires that we do. But overall, the trajectory of a happy relationship, which begins with cherishing similarity, ends in cherishing difference. p. 145
  • I’d recognized love when I’d found it because I had seen it from my earliest days. Without ever having to think about it, I had always known what it would look like: loyal, stable, affectionate, funny, forbearing, enduring. My sister, in adulthood, once put this very beautifully. Our parents, she said, had given us a love of ideas, and also the idea of love. p. 153
  • There are certain fighting words in relationships: you always x, you never y, calm down, grow up, I don’t have time for this. p. 154
  • . . . . made less noise than the moon when it sets. p. 158
  • Languages, like landmasses, change shape over time. Until the late nineteenth century, the final character of the English alphabet was not the letter Z but a word: “and.” That word was written—on countless slates and blackboards and grade school primers—as “&,” so that the whole sequence looked like this: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z & . . . . If you recite the alphabet with it stuck to the end, as schoolchildren across the English-speaking world were routinely required to do, you sound as if you are leaving your listener hanging: “…X, Y, Z, and.” And what? It’s not true, no matter what old-fashioned grammarians might tell you, that you shouldn’t start a sentence with “and,” but ending something that way is a different story. To solve this problem, students were taught to use the Latin phrase per se, meaning “in itself,” to indicate that they meant the character, not the word. Thus instead of saying “X, Y, Z, and,” they dutifully said, “X, Y, Z, and per se and”—a phrase that, over time, grew blurry from repetition. It is our language, then, that turned the Latin “&” into the ampersand. p. 189-90.
  • There is no enduring love on the planet, nor ever has been, that isn’t characterized by these crisscrossing moods. “Whoever supposes,” Montaigne once wrote, “to see me look sometimes coldly, sometimes lovingly, on my wife, that either look is feigned, is a fool.” We think of all these other emotions as supernumerary, as obscuring or even defiling the real thing. But there is no real thing—or, rather, taken together, this grab bag of reactions is the real thing. Love is the totality of ways you feel while in love; grief is the totality of ways you feel while grieving. Everything else is just an abstraction, a stream or a tree limb in the mind. “One never meets just Cancer, or War, or Unhappiness (or Happiness),” C. S. Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed. “One only meets each hour or moment that comes.” And whether you are living through happiness or cancer, the hours change and change. We all have, as Lewis wrote, “many bad spots in our best times, many good ones in our worst.” p. 218
  • I, too, feel that way: that my days are exceptional even when they are ordinary, that existence does not need to show us any of its more famous or spectacular wonders to fill us with amazement. We live remarkable lives because life itself is remarkable, a fact that is impossible not to notice if only suffering leaves us alone for long enough. pp. 222-223
  • I love my life and wouldn’t exchange it for any other, but I am not sure the faint contrails of longing left behind by all these other imagined futures ever fully disappear. That’s not because some part of me still wonders who else I could have been; it is just a general mourning for the foreclosure of possibility. So many opportunities are out of reach from the moment we are born, ruled out by circumstance, and so many more are eliminated as we age. “It is impossible to have every experience,” Virginia Woolf wrote, regretfully; at best we get a glimpse of a sliver of what we are missing—“like those glances I cast into basements when I walk in London streets.” Decades later, the poet Louise Glück described this problem as “metaphysical claustrophobia: the bleak fate of being always one person.” Every other possible existence, in Idaho or Honduras or Lahore, as a carpenter or baseball player or musical genius, as a sibling if we are an only child or an only child if we are the youngest of seven—all of these variations on the human experience are unavailable to us. We have, unavoidably, only our one lifetime, and no matter how energetic or interested or fortunate or long-lived we may be, we can only do so much with it. And so much, against the backdrop of the universe, can seem so very little. pp. 232-233
  • We are here to keep watch, not to keep. p. 236.

Surrender

Mike Cosper, “Bono’s Punk-Rock Rebellion Was a Cry of Hopeful Lament,” Christianity Today (Nov. 4, 2022) [link], writes about Bono’s memoir (Surrender [amazon]), the space between faith and the world, and how Bono came to live there:

  • [His mother’s] death wasn’t the only earth-shattering event in 1974. Four months before she collapsed, three car bombs exploded in Dublin and a fourth in Monaghan, killing 33 and wounding more than 300. One exploded near Dolphin Discs, the record shop that was Bono’s regular afterschool hangout, but he wasn’t there. A bus strike that same day meant he’d ridden a bike to school and back, and he was home when the bombs went off. He writes, “I didn’t dodge a bullet that day; I dodged carnage.”
  • Too often, Christian artists are confronted with unwritten codes — subjects to avoid, self-images to project, messages to cram into their projects, people not to offend, and politics to endorse or avoid. Few things are more poisonous to creativity than that kind of dogmatism. U2’s response to these confrontations has been to accept the paradox and contradiction of living in an in-between space. It’s led some to suggest they’re too Christian for the mainstream and too mainstream for Christians. It strikes me that this framework gets it exactly wrong. Living in that liminal space has made them more able to speak to both communities.

I particularly enjoyed the reported conversations with Billy Graham’s son Franklin and with Jesse Helms, but I also like the account of how contract law kept U2 from disbanding.

Ng

Celeste Ng, Our Missing Hearts (2022):

  • “His father hasn’t been a professor for years but he can’t stop himself from trying to teach. His brain is like a big dog penned in his skull, restless and pacing, aching for a run.” p. 25.
  • “He has never been in a place like this, where no one gives him a second glace. . . . For the first time in his life he is unremarkable, and this feels like power.” p. 124.
  • “She loved this about him, the unshakeable belief that the world was a knowable place. That by studying its branches and byways, the tracks it had rutted in the dust, you could understand it.” 175-76.
  • “No one saw it yet, but by then, almost imperceptibly, the story of the Crisis had begun to solidify. Soon enough it would harden, like silt from turbid water, settling in a thick band of mud.” p. 178.

Current reading

A sober word from a writer who has offered many insights aver the years, but who is now withdrawing from writing life:

  • [T]here is a time for every season under heaven, and I believe I’ve entered a new time and season of my life. I’ve drawn inspiration, as you might imagine, from many public figures in the past (from kings to local town officials), who decided to spend their last years in a monastery, simply learning how to pray and love their fellow monks. I like to think that I’m doing that sort of thing as my life circumstances allow. Naturally, I seek your prayers in these new endeavors.

Mark Galli, “The Omega Edition,” Peripheral Vision (Nov. 4, 2022) [link].


Interesting article mainly about the affirmative action cases (Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. President & Fellows of Harvard College, Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. University of North Carolina), but also about Chief Justice John Roberts’ ability to lead (or shape or influence) the Supreme Court — Joan Biskupic, “John Roberts shows he still has a grip on the Supreme Court,” CNN (Nov. 1, 2022) [link]:

  • The chief justice repeated his enduring view that race should not matter, and he denounced admissions practices that consider students’ race or ethnicity for campus diversity. He suggested that if the court were to uphold the current policies at Harvard University and University of North Carolina, racial affirmative action would never end. “Your position is that race matters because it’s necessary for diversity, which is necessary for the sort of education you want,” he told North Carolina state solicitor general Ryan Park, who was defending the UNC program. “It’s not going to stop mattering at some particular point; you’re always going to have to look at race because you say race matters to give us the necessary diversity.”

For more on the legal arguments presented on October 31, see Amy Howe, “Affirmative action appears in jeopardy after marathon arguments,” SCOTUSblog (Oct. 31, 2022) [link].


I remember reading (in the ’80s) Stephen J. Gould on why there would never be another .400 hitter in baseball (“Complex systems improve when the best performers play by the same rules over extended periods of time. As systems improve, they equilibrate and variation decreases.”), and then Michael Lewis’ Moneyball (2003). Put this article in the same lineage: Derek Thompson, “What Moneyball-for-Everything Has Done to American Culture,” The Atlantic (Oct. 30, 2022) [link]:

  • The analytics revolution, which began with the movement known as Moneyball, led to a series of offensive and defensive adjustments that were, let’s say, catastrophically successful. Seeking strikeouts, managers increased the number of pitchers per game and pushed up the average velocity and spin rate per pitcher. Hitters responded by increasing the launch angles of their swings, raising the odds of a home run, but making strikeouts more likely as well. These decisions were all legal, and more important, they were all correct from an analytical and strategic standpoint.

What makes this article a continuation of the arguments (rather than a recapitulation of the idea) is the suggestion that this endemic in our time. Plus, I like the phrase “catastrophically successful.”

Reading and remembering

Alan Jacobs writes:

  • Though I am unloveable, God loves me, and is willing to pay an enormous price to reconcile me to Himself. God loves me and hopes – “hopes” is a strange word to use with regard to the Omnipotent and Omniscient, but it’s the best word I have – God hopes that I will love Him in return.

“Adam Atheist,” The Homebound Symphony (Oct. 27, 2022) [link]. This reminded me of Will Campbell’s definition of grace: “We’re all bastards, but God loves us anyway.” The quote is from Brother to Dragonfly, but you can easily find more about Campbell and his definition online, for example at Philip Yancey, “Apostle to the Rednecks,” philipyancey.com (June 7, 2013) [link].

Sarah Rowell writes:

  • Stories [remind us]. They bring people together, shy at a dinner party, weeping on a bench. They remind us that although we cannot see our own way, there is a good purpose, for in the very best stories the way is dark at times and we cannot imagine a happy ending. They give us hope and make us brave.

“The Stories of His People,” Blind Mule Blog (Oct. 24, 2022) [link]. Sarah is thinking of her grandfather, and Wendell Berry, and a newly recognized friend.

Brad East gives charitable rules for reviewing and being reviewed, notably

  • 3. A review should give the reader some taste of the prose, some sense of the voice of the author and not only the author as mediated by your voice.

“Rules for reviewing and being reviewed,” bradeast.org (Oct. 24, 2022) [link], but I was then much taken by an older post about why believers should see the Bible as trustworthy:

  • The third reason for trusting the New Testament as God’s word is that the church does. What do I mean by this? Simply this: Christianity precedes us. We don’t make it up ourselves. We certainly don’t build it from scratch. It’s not a DIY project. It’s just there, waiting for us before we come on the scene. It possesses something truly precious, or so it claims. That something is the good news of Jesus.

“Trusting the Bible,” bradeast.org (Sept. 3, 2022) [link].

Also well worth reading this week: Ted Gioia, “9 Facts About Guitarist Pat Metheny as a Youngster,” Substack: The Honest Broker (Oct. 25, 2022) [link]; Andrew Sullivan, “The British Barack Obama?” Substack: The Weekly Dish (Oct. 28, 2022) [link]; Freddie deBoer, “Mad Max in Park Slope” Substack: FdB (Oct. 28, 2022) [link].

Pastoral Prayer 10/23/2022

We serve a God who is vastly more subtle than we understand.

When we think we understand what he is doing in our lives or in the world, he is often acting with purposes and to ends which we have not seen or comprehended.

The grand narratives of the Bible are full of events in which it seems that God is doing one thing when in truth he is doing something else. Think about:

  • Joseph being sold into slavery, wrongly accused and thrown into prison . . . and then being elevated to a high position in which he could deliver mercy to his family: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” It appeared that God had abandoned Joseph, but in reality he was delivering Joseph (and his family as well).
  • The nation which came from Abraham being enslaved in Egypt, . . . and after 400 years becoming a large nation united and able to endure hardship, prepared to enter a covenant with God. It appeared that God had abandoned the nation, but in reality he was preparing it for the Law and the Land.
  • That nation eventually rebelling in so many ways and over such a long period of time that first Assyria and then Babylon invaded . . . and then after many years returning, chastened, to the Land. Again, it appeared that God had abandoned the nation, but in reality he was purifying it for true worship.
  • The people of God declining into subjugation to mighty, cruel Rome . . . and then after many years being given a delivering Messiah. Yet again it appeared that God had abandoned his people, but in reality he was preparing them for Messiah. (And yet, even then, God was not doing the thing they expected, since the Messiah had not – not yet – come to make a physical deliverance, but to offer a spiritual deliverance.)

I could go on and on. I could tell you about the lives of Job and Jacob and David and Daniel and Paul and John Mark . . . .

I remind you of these things which you know quite well, because we tend to forget that this subtlety is a part of how God acts in our own lives.

Or at least I forget it all too often, and so I miss giving God glory for the unexpected ways he delivers. I forgot yesterday.

Mostly, then, this is a prayer for me. I invite you to make it your prayer as well.

Let’s pray.

Holy Father,

I come to you who are the Master of the Universe, for you made it and sustain it and direct it, and you are in the process of redeeming it and delivering it in ways too deep and subtle for me to comprehend.

When I am frustrated and irritated and angry with the events in my life, when I blame my clients or co-workers, my family, the waiter, the cashier, the President, the governor, the society . . . Let me remember that you are the God who delivers – not often in the way or time I expect, but always completely and in your own time.

When I am frightened and uncertain about things clearly outside of my control, including my health and the health of those close to me, the economy and world affairs . . . Let me remember that you are the God who delivers – not often in the way or time I expect, but always completely and in your own time.

When I am discouraged and weary of struggling against my own sin and despairing of my own failings, and nothing seems to change . . . Let me remember that you are the God who delivers – not often in the way or time I expect, but always completely and in your own time.

Let me remember that you are God . . . and I am not,

And your ways are not my ways,

And you see more and further than I,

And you are the God who delivers,

Always,

Completely,

In your time and in your way,

Because you are the one who loves me more than I ever comprehend.

Help me to rest in your love this day and this week.

AMEN.

Pastoral Prayer 09/25/2022

O Holy Father, we come before you 
	by the authority of your Son, Jesus, and 
		in the power of your Spirit.

We come because we are creatures, 
	but you made us and understand us;
We come because we are weak, 
	but you can do more than we can imagine;
We come because we are sick, 
	but you can heal our diseases;
We come because we are ashamed, 
	but you took away all our shame through the sacrifice of Jesus;
We come because we are frightened, 
	but you can hold back whatever might harm us; 
We come because we are lonely,
	but you will never leave us;
We come because we are fearful, 
	but your love casts out all fear;
We come because we are injured, 
	but you can repair whatever has been damaged;
We come because we are uncertain, 
	but you hold every single strand of our futures;
We come because we are tempted, 
	but you offer us a way of escape;
We come because we are sinful,
	but you give us grace and forgiveness.

In your presence we ask these things:

For those who are sick of body, 
we ask health, knowing that you understand perfectly the bodies you have made, and can heal—with or without medicine; with or without doctors; in this life or in the next.

For those who are mired in sin, whether of anxiety, or lust, or gluttony, or pride, or anger:
we ask that each would see the sin, and hate it and call out to you for mercy, forgiveness, and deliverance.

For those who are embarking on new paths:
we ask for wisdom and insight and blessing, and we ask for strength, perseverance and faithfulness.

For those who are dealing with difficult relationships:
we ask for patient obedience, wise words, and a willingness to let you work.  

For those who are wearied by the world:
we ask for grace to continue, renewed endurance, and confidence in your leading.  

We come to you Father, 
because of the love which you have for us, 
	the power you display in creation
		and the peace which you offer. 
Teach us to sing your praise and follow your Son.
Teach us to be one in your Spirit.

AMEN.