[On Sunday, Becca and I traveled back to Holland to worship with the church we went to in college and to attend a C. S. Lewis reading group, populated by some of the dearest professors at Hope, which meets in the previous head of the English Department’s house. These people are the ones who filled us with love for scholarship, who took us under their wings and taught us to flourish, who gave us a passion for learning and the desire to go on and follow in their footsteps. It is a good, and very good, place to be.
This week, the group was discussing the chapter on Friendship from Lewis’ The Four Loves. The discussion seemed odd to me, somehow – something was different, unusual, maybe wrong, and I couldn’t place what it was. It wasn’t until mid-way through the afternoon that it suddenly dawned on me. Here was a group of highly learned men talking about faith with an earnestness and passion that knocked me back into my seat. This is what seemed wrong – that one could discuss faith intellectually without being discounted, belittled, or ignored. This thought shocked me, as I realized that this is what I have been missing, that this is what has made graduate school so hellish. The lack of faith at my university, among my peers and professors, is what tries to destroy my desire to go on learning, and that is why everything seems dark. The car ride back to Kalamazoo was deep with thought and questions. Here are a few.]
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat.
And suddenly, like the slow opening of a dreadful rose, petal by garrish petal, I understand. This scarce-utterable reverence. This clinging faith in something, Someone, miraculously Other. This is what is wanting. From everything, everywhere, from all that I am doing here. The deep emptiness, the thing that’s holding me bound, it isn’t a thing, it’s a lack, a hole.
It’s God, missing.
And I see that this is why there is no joy.
Here, I have felt so trapped. I have felt caught without purpose or passion or anything that is good. Hunted, unable to wriggle loose of this thing that clings to me with a hundred grasping fingers that I cannot shake, that I cannot see. I have felt pressed into a path I do not want, held down and forced into a space that is dark and small enough to feel the walls against the backs of my hands, held stiff to my sides. I have felt claustrophobic, straight-jacket panic – because I am here, and I can’t go home, and I don’t know if my eyes are open because it is too dark to see and I can’t cry for help because if I open my mouth something dry and stifling fills it and I cannot breathe. I have felt encompassed by this emptiness, no thought besides the quiet thumb-print murmur, get out, get out, get out.
I have felt that though all I am presented with is options, choices, possibilities, every one of them leads to the same conclusion and the choices are fake and the options are not options and there is only one decision I can possibly make. The decision to stand here in the dark with these walls pressing at my shoulders, to stand here and not to tremble, because if I do, then someone else above me will fall. I have felt that it is too late to escape.
I have felt so trapped, and I have not known why, and that has been a terror.
When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
And now I whisper in this emptiness, how? How do I get away? How do I keep from being surprised by the sudden glimpse of beauty under an Autumn-blazing tree, sunlight falling in fire like the leaves, scattering the sidewalk after rain, shining, shining, everything, like the glory of a heaven I have never seen? How do I take and treasure up these things, like Mary, in my heart, and yet, how do I expect them? Because isn’t this world filled with a thousand thousand tiny moments of grace? Should I be surprised by something that runs liquid like the first light in the very air I breathe?
If I do not cry out, the very stones will shout! This euphoric, yearning, painful Joy of the Lord – this is what I do not have! This lack is what destroys me, desiccated from the inside out, what makes me turn away from who I am. And my empty, shrinking heart asks – How long? How much desperation must I have before something cracks and opens and I have a voice again? How much desperation can I feel before I crack and break and shatter into dust?
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not whither. Whatever he does prospers. Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.
I do not want to blow away.
How do I find God in the depths of the trap and the darkness? Until I see His face, I cannot see His face. How do I catch a glimpse of Him, in order that I may see the fullness?
I am empty and longing to be not so, but I am afraid of the ways that I will surely fail to be filled. How do I find again the joy of Christ here, in all this brokenness of my heart, of this place, of all that I must do before tomorrow? How do the heavens declare the glory of God, and how do I see that, and how do I proclaim with the skies His works? How do I stand like a tree beside the water of God’s holy name?
How do I cry out with the stones?
These shafts of beauty, they pierce. If I can cling to these, there is hope. If I can cling to these, maybe the stones will cry out in my place.