by Scott Cairns
He did not fall then, blind upon a road,
nor did his lifelong palsy disappear.
He heard no voice, save the familiar,
of the sore perplexed. The kettle steamed
and whistled. A heavy truck downshifted
near the square. He heard a child calling,
and heard a mourning dove intone its one
dull call. For all of that, his wits remained
quite dim. He breathed and spoke the words he read.
If what had been long dead then came alive,
that resurrection was by all appearances
metaphorical. The miracle arrived
without display. He held a book, and as he read
he found the very thing he’d sought. Just that.
A life with little hurt but one, the lucky gift
of a raveled book, a kettle slow to heat,
and time enough therefore to lift the book
and find in one slight passage the very wish
he dared not ask aloud, until, that is,
he spoke the words he read.
Any true (enduring) conversions, either big or small, I've undergone have not been drastic, but rather gradual, incremental – less like a firecracker and more like a pot of cold water that warms up, then slowly simmers before finally boiling. I'm reading Wendell Berry's Hannah Coulter right now for book club, on the heels of an inspiring two-day conference I participated in over the weekend (one I'll write about in more detail very soon). That string of outstanding presentations, and this quiet but extraordinary novel, have sparked yet another evolving rebirth. Baby steps – I'm taking timid, tiny baby steps toward allowing this Faith of mine to penetrate even more (oft unchecked) aspects of my day-to-day life, and the lives of my family members. I am inspecting a little closer my ingrained habits, ruts and thought patterns and wondering what kind of small changes, in terms of how I spend my time and what I put into my mind, my soul, my body, might lead to bigger ones, eventually paving the way for a full-blown resurrection of sorts (resulting in the death of my craving for "easy") - one not flashy in nature but eternal nonetheless.
Great Lent is around the corner. Well, isn't that perfect timing – a perfect gift for one like me whose wispy good intentions could use some serious fortifying? And speaking of Lent, of not all up in your face yet salvific transformations, of the power of the written word, of the talented Mr. Cairns, I present to you this excerpt from Scott's latest article in the Huffington Post entitled, Peering into the Looming Lenten Dark (Read all of it HERE):
"But then we begin to realize that this very length and monotony are needed if we are to experience the secret and at first unnoticeable 'action' of the service in us. Little by little, we begin to understand, or rather to feel, that this sadness is indeed 'bright,' that a mysterious transformation is about to take place in us.
Moving through the sadness, we glimpse the joy. We feel its effects on us, and feel how it changes us. We are thereby led to a place where noises, distractions, and false importance of the street, of our dissipated lives — finally "have no access — a place where they have no power."
Similarly, then, in those seasons of our afflictions — those trials in our lives that we do not choose, but press through– a stillness, a calm, and a hope become available to us. They are a stillness, a calm, and a hope that must be acquired slowly, because — as Father Schmemann says of our joy in Lent — "our fallen nature has lost the ability to accede there naturally."
So, we are obliged to recover this wisdom slowly, bit by bit.
And I will leave our final bit to the amazing Simone Weil. She writes: "The extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering, but a supernatural use for it."
Δόξα το Θεό.
May our afflictions be few, but may we learn not to squander them.
To sprint is to set myself up for a discouraging case of the burn-outs, and thus I put but one foot slowly, prayerfully, in front of the other. Little by little, bit by bit, by "pressing through," I begin to understand.
Thanks be to God.