Alice asked, “Why does he say ‘Mary, don’t you weep’?” One of Pete Seeger’s albums is on a three-disc repeat cycle in the van, and it’s a crowd favorite. The girls sing the words with more confidence the longer we listen, and this one — “O, Mary, don’t you weep, don’t you moan; Pharaoh’s army got drownded, O, Mary, don’t you weep” — is a spiritual that’s fun to sing.
“Well, what do you think Mary’s weeping about?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“But why shouldn’t she weep?”
“Because just like when Pharaoh’s army got killed in the Red Sea, God wins. Jesus died, but he’s coming back.”
“HE’S COMING BACK?!”
I turned around in my van seat. Dear Jesus, don’t let me forget this moment. “Yes! He’s coming back! Didn’t you know that?”
“No! Why didn’t you tell me! Maybe he’s coming back when I’m alive!”
We’re not to the end of Vos’ Child’s Story Bible, and I don’t recall how the Storybook Bible ended, but apparently children’s bibles don’t clearly state at the end “HEADS UP: HE’S COMING BACK.”
How could she have missed this beautiful detail? But how amazing that I got to see that light bulb moment for my 6-year-old? Not simply because it was fun to hear her tone change from borderline boredom to unfiltered excitement, but also because the COMING BACK makes the difference, right? He’s alive; that. The coming back makes the difference.
I’ve lived too long as if he weren’t coming back, or I’ve focused on other questions; I still have questions. Some day I’ll understand some of them, or maybe I won’t, but I hope I’ll always remember those parts that hinge on this, now not being it, everything. Now’s important (I say that often: now shapes us; there’s something in “now” that’s got the potential to make us holier if we let it), but now’s not everything.
In looking for a church to be our Lansing church last year, I read so many statements of faith and mission statements that they all bled together: Triune God, Jesus Messiah, “come as you are” atmosphere, modern music, small groups, coffee, etc., etc. They all mentioned Jesus coming back. One, however, mentioned something extra-certain, a sort of “by the way,” or “in case you heard otherwise”: God had not abandoned us or abdicated; that He was still actively involved, we hadn’t missed Him. I got scared for a second — I’d always believed in God, but I’d never considered He’d left the party early. I thought the question was “God or no God” — suddenly this statement of faith gave me a grain of doubt. I’m on the other side of that moment now; I’m fine. But that minutes-long hesitation — “Wait, that’s a thing I should worry about?” — illustrates to me to how dearly I need to know that Jesus comes back. I function on this part.
Depending on what’s going on in the periphery of my life, I pray more or less fervently for the day I picture Jesus coming back to clean up all the spills I can’t; to heal what’s broken; to put back in the air the hawk that was killed right by the soccer field. To fix all the stuff I can’t. Isn’t that hope, really? I could use some. What a relief for a 30-something to know that; maybe what a relief for a 6-year-old to hear that, too.
She’s tried to run away twice recently, in the serious-but-not-serious way a 6-year-old has. She’s headed to Grandma’s house. We’ve been able to calmly talk her into staying the night for safety’s sake both times — coyotes and foxes all over, she can’t read a map by a half moon, too late to call Grandma for a ride, etc. But the injustices she feels waged against her require more than she thinks staying can fix.
Illustrations collide in my mind. She’s got to stay, though, as we do, in the now. I mean, Grandma’s is three hours away by car. And Grandma works. But, hey. Learning to live with parents who offer natural consequences is an art.
I’ve got to stay here, now, too. We like to say moving to a place that would let us be more hospitable costs money. We eat eggs for dinner and set the thermostat to 62 in January; money’s not our thing now. But, hey. Learning to chase the parts of the half-joke commune we can do now is an art, too; an ordinary radical sort of art. It’s an art to ask, rubbing our hands together with cheer, “Well, what now, then? What shall it be? Because I can’t wait.”
Maybe we’re a little alike, that daughter and I. Dreamers and doers, impatient and hopeful.