Back a week from the grave. He pecks at the food his sisters set before him. He is afraid to sleep. He imagines the eyes of everyone upon him but they are careful not to stare, a meaningless courtesy: the midday sun consumes both sight and soul. His funeral shroud is unburnt—he won’t allow it—but his sisters refuse to permit its being brought into the house. Sometimes they catch him holding it to his face and weeping into it. It smells so foully that not even the crows will approach it. He rarely speaks but sometimes talks of going away. It is almost, to their shame, to be wished for.
Perhaps you are perplexed to determine how two such disparate stories could be told about me. But the truth hides somewhere between and beyond these accounts—I was neither a poor beggar nor a wealthy intimate of God’s Son.
If in these tales I appear as a mere prop—a passive player in parables concerned with actors who wielded some form of genuine power—thus far you may credit each tale: I had no voice. Dumb from birth, the real miracle for me would have been to speak.
And yet this never seemed to me a curse or even a lack— I grew to love my silence, and in my early years I was thought to be simply shy as my maternal sisters supplied my voice in public encounters. Indeed, their ready reading of my intent was all the miracle I craved.
I neither anticipated nor needed any return from the grave—that was about his need, his purpose, not mine. And to be enfolded in the arms of Abraham like some Isaac or Ishmael, my sight simply a torment to some rich fool—what is that to me? To you?
I remember I stopped dead in my tracks. I had been walking along the flat, dark shale bed of the ravine behind my grandfather’s farmhouse in southern Indiana. There on the ground, still in perfect alignment, lay the skeleton of a cow that had wandered away one winter many years ago and had slipped and fallen into the ravine. The bones lay in precise order—the head bone connected to the neck bone, the neck bone connected to the back bone, and so on.
God calls us out of the metaphorical tombs in which we are buried: addiction, hopelessness, guilt. But I believe God also calls us out of the tangible tombs of entrenched poverty, poor education, and limited opportunity.
To understand what I am going to tell you, you need to know that my parents were scientists and that my mother’s mind had a decidedly unpoetic bent. Nonetheless, they read me poems from the time I was very young because they paid attention to what gladdened my spirit.