There’s a missionary in “Shadows on the Rock” who commits to a vow of perpetual stability, despite every human inclination to leave the wilderness of late 1600s Montreal. He can’t learn the Huron language; he’s harshly treated by them, and doesn’t ever find that transcendent love he’s “supposed” to feel; he’s not even sure God’s nearby. He’s homesick, always homesick, for the academic life he left in France, and for his brothers who understand him and his tastes. He’s sick to his stomach at the mere smell of the native Americans he’s there to live with. They follow him to the woods to laugh at him vomiting when he finds out a meal they served him had human flesh in it. But he stays anyway. He commits to die in the wilderness and he does. (Oh, Willa Cather; you.)
“My sacrifice is poor compared to this,” another character says.
As is mine. But what I love is that vow to stay, of course.
It’s a stretch to call any part of our lives in America in 2014 wilderness. But maybe the best we can do is stay, still. Because as I’m watching my kids play cars on the carpet at their grandma’s house, I’m really thinking about the things beyond my mom’s house. Last night, we visited my grandma in the nursing home. She sleeps a lot, and in a room full of ladies in their 80s and older, the TV was blaring “Entertainment Tonight,” which is probably the antithesis of my love language. Quickly from her smooth hands laying folded across her lap, to an inane story about reporters “in the cross fire,” or whatever the angle was, in Missouri; as if the storytellers there were the story; and loudly, so loudly, to crowd out the book Alice and I were reading to Grandma.
Grandma doesn’t talk much anymore. I kissed her head. “I love you, Grandma,” and she looked at me and said “I love you, too.” I am vowing to stay in the wilderness of the place where people use stories of injustice on “Entertainment Tonight,” at the risk of missing this stuff. God help us. And God thank you for Grandma, for anchoring us.
And wider, still: Facebook’s switched from pictures of food and articles about music to sometimes helpful, sometimes hateful responses to Missouri and, again: we speak because we’re afflicted or we know someone is, and yet … we forget that injustice in our own lives is unavoidable in this broken world, in our own wildernesses … And maybe we even forget that Thursday’s the day we’re to be grateful for what’s right, and we’re to begin on Sunday, the first day of Advent, to prepare for the Baby and also the Man who’ll return later to set all these fallen pieces back upright. Maybe we forget the lack of justice DOES require us to do something, but that it’s probably not get in a fight with relatives over turkey.
Maybe what we do on Friday, next Tuesday, next year means more about our belief in real hope and justice than soapbox gladiator competitions while our aunts are elbows-deep in dish soap.
Maybe getting down on the floor with the kids instead of being provoked into an argument is more of a response to the kind of injustice that got hijacked by a circus; maybe helping here, in our own broken places, is the right response. Maybe those of us with a voice should use it; but maybe we should also know when to kneel down and just pray Jesus would come quickly, because this is just too much, and we don’t know how to fix it all the way by ourselves, though we can try.
And as my kids ignore me while they play with the toys from my and my brothers’ childhood, I’m not bemoaning the culture they’ll inherit, not at all. I’m instead expectantly hopeful: they’re driving Matchbox cars along the carpet, and Alice says they’re bringing soup and pizza to hungry people. No, I’m hopeful that I’m raising helpers, people-lovers, strong and respectful voices.
And in the meantime, this, from yesterday’s Common Prayer:
“What would you teach us today in our trials, Lord? Make us receptive! Help us see your victory and compassion rather than look for easy answers to our troubles. So make us expectant, Lord, and patient. Amen.” (Common Prayer, from Nov. 25)