In the Lectionary

October 23, Ordinary 30C (Joel 2:23–32)

In Joel I encounter the God who has counted what I’ve lost and promised to pay it back.

I often read the first stanza of the poem “Bible Study” by Tony Hoagland as a prayer: “Who would have imagined that I would have to go / a million miles away from the place where I was born / to find people who would love me? / And that I would go that distance and that I would find those people?”

The poem’s tone of wonder helps me to see the trajectory of my own life as a series of minor miracles. Finding people who love you when you have for so long felt unloved and unlovable can feel as much like a miracle as a dramatic healing or resurrection does.

But this isn’t just a poem about the redemption of human relationships. There is a postapocalyptic mood to “Bible Study.” A midwestern sun is “inflamed as an appendicitis.” The gears of a machine threaten to swallow up a hand to the wrist. The speaker has traveled alone for so long that he starts reading the Gideon Bibles in his motel rooms for company.