"Alyosha stood at the crossroads under the streetlamp." Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
It's a place of darkness where a human will might do its best work, where kindness becomes flesh or deflates like a blow-up Santa come New Year's. It might be the snug, well-insulated house, green lawn groomed, minivan shining bright in the garage, abuse lurking in some airless bedroom corner. Or it might be the stinking deathbed, the anguished, desperate jail cell, where Alyosha blesses this brother's innocence or that one's best intentions, absorbing the worst the world wills him. Still he chooses to kiss the tortured Ivan and, if stories had a doorway, Ivan's Grand Inquisitor, too, for, in the end, it's freely given love the withered, aging lips long for. At this crossroads Jesus kneels before a cowering prostitute, her breasts bare. He sticks his finger in the dirt, sketches what shames them all but not her, no, judges not to shame her, says instead, "Go ahead, throw a stone, you men who have no sin." It's the place of darkness at crossroads everywhere, offering bewildered travelers light enough to glimpse the willing figure love makes or the long, shivering shadow of its retreat.
Support the Christian Century
The Century's work relies primarily on subscriptions and donations. Thank you for supporting nonprofit journalism.