Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Have and have-nots, the blessed and the cursed, forewarned and forearmed. This week, so far, has already stretched an eternity, it feels, and the stretched, demanded feeling that pervades muscles after a sprint seems to seep into thoughts, percolate in prayers, couch feelings.
This weekend, my eyes passed over the Jean Valjean and Monsigneur Bienvenu passage of Victor Hugo's tragic epic of redemption. It split my soul in two, dividing seeds from fruit, cracking rind and hull from the softer, less developed interior. I heard the words while sitting in church, I saw the scenes while driving through ripe Kentucky brightness. Spring doesn't know the struggle to reconcile the robber within you with the priest within you.
The curve of John's back as his lungs quietly fill and exhale with sleeping labor still intrudes on my expectations. The surprise of finding a warm, living being curled up against me steadily tap, tap, tap, taps, standing at the door, and knocking. Every day I have the choice to answer and let him in, or twitch the curtains at the window suspiciously, wondering if this guest will bear blessings or will bear away what little I have. When I wake, my mind exclaims at his feet pressed against my calf, and then relaxes with a smile. His cold feet are pressing a simple, skin-covered message to my brain: the tangible love that snores softly makes no pretenses, finds no fault: it simply loves, and that it continues to do so stirs my soul with notice and then quiets it with calm.
Luther remarked on the strangeness of waking to the sight of pigtails on a pillow next to his. There is strangeness in unfamiliarity. There is also strangeness in constancy. It is strange to grow accustomed to the presence of the unfamiliar. Trust requires courage. It also requires surrender. And that is how the priest slept soundly next to a criminal. He knew that perfect love casts out fear - and he had, for decades, quietly absorbed that perfect love, spilling it out on neighbors, strangers, peasants, and mayors. How can we give grace, if we have not the grace to receive it? How will we love, if we move uncomfortably in its presence? How will we serve, if we squirm when another chooses to serve us? To reject forgiveness is to rob our own souls of the very thing they cannot live without.

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