For just this day I thank you, Lord—this day when in a new and lonely empty place appeared a friend with whom I could retrace through forty years an undeserved array of other moments shared, and so survey as back across a pathless hillside face a hidden net of tangled trails where grace had always, always canopied the way. The bits of furniture he left behind will be of course in constant, welcome use but they will also serve as types that bind with unseen ligaments of love my loose days here to many others far apart in space and time but very near in heart.
At first—a leering mob circling the house, jeering, dancing naked, taunting the guests with their sex— the daughters thought their father brave to step outside, lock the door behind him, stretch his arms out in protection.
But then, even he offered them up, a sacrifice to protect strangers. Their father. The only “righteous man” in a city destined for flames, “Do with them what you like. But don’t do anything to these men.”
Then their eyes were like Isaac’s below the knife, the ram not yet in the bush, the blade gleaming.
What dread dug in the daughters’ betrayed hearts before the rioters, struck blind, stumbled, fell down, unable to find the door, Lot tugged back safely to the house?
And later, when they left that life behind, eyes straight toward Zoar, did they hear their mother turning, her stories sliced off mid-sentence?
What kept their gaze fixed? Their father’s almost-sacrifice or the intervention?
Fairy tales tend to be parables. They teach us to look beneath the surface (Beauty and the Beast), to exercise patience and to work to overcome obstacles (Sleeping Beauty), to avoid easy gratification and hold out for the real prizes in life (Pinocchio). In the fairy-tale films of the great Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, the meanings are often layered.
“. . . he was carried up, and a cloud took him.” Acts 1:9
Gravity, they say, is all about mass. Big attracts Big sucks big pulls big, like death, won’t let go. Still, We worship those who try: “Lucky Lindy,” St. Michael Jordan. Leonardo, bless him, forever plotting how To fly, or assuage the general jowliness of time.
Jesus was taken up, and Mary. St. Teresa of Ávila Had to cling to the rail during prayer to keep from Floating skyward—the Assumption being that things Sometimes fall up. But, come on, which way is Up? That is to say, which way isn’t? If Teresa was
A person of such faith, why didn’t she just let go? Like The man I knew who, after being told he had “maybe Six months,” immediately signed up for swimming Lessons. “Well,” he said, “I just felt that if I could learn How to float, I could learn how to die.”
Here’s your Ash Wednesday story. A mother carries her tiny daughter With her as she gets ashed and the Girl, curious and wriggly, squirms Into the path of the priest’s thumb Just as the finger is about to arrive On the mother’s forehead, and the Ashes go right in the kid’s left eye. She starts to cry, and there’s a split Second as the priest and the mother Gawk, and then they both burst out Laughing. The kid is too little to be Offended, and the line moves along, But this stays with me; not the ashy Eye as much as the instant when all Could have been pain and awkward But instead it led to mutual giggling. We are born of dust and star-scatter And unto this we shall return, this is The Law, but meantime, by God, we Can laugh our asses off. What a gift, You know? Let us snicker while we Can, brothers and sisters. Let us use That which makes dark things quail.
Between 1990 and 2010, Iowa lost over 500 churches. The numbers reflect migration from rural to urban areas and the fewer number of people who identify with a faith community. The decline in churches is having a direct effect on the social fabric of the state. According to research at Iowa State University, nine out of ten rural people said they rely less on their neighbors than they once did. Surviving churches have gone back to older patterns to find leadership, engaging itinerant pastors or lay leaders. Some are surviving through cooperation with other denominations or with ethnic Christian groups (Pacific Standard, January 20).