AfterWords | The Truth’s Superb Surprise (September 18, 2022)
AfterWords is a series of community-contributed reflections intended to further the conversations that begin during Parish sermons.
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A 3-Minute Read
by Laura Boggs
One minute you’re speed-brushing your teeth, searching for car keys, then following the county’s slowest Honda Civic on your way church. You come in off the street, find a seat, listen to a passage being read. And suddenly you’re undone. In a good way. Welcome to The Parish!
A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. — G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
Here Chesterton paints a picture of God’s delight and our sin, a fitting setup for the sermon (also undoing) to follow.
Chesterton’s words are wise and whimsical, a truth told slant.
Tell all the truth, but tell it slant—
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise — Emily Dickinson
“One More Story”
So says our daughter Sadie, who can’t get enough of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, Green Eggs and Ham, and Goodnight Moon, books built on repetition. As we end the day, the overhead light in Sadie’s room is dimmed. I don’t need my glasses to read; I’ve committed to memory…
In the great green room, there was a telephone, and a red balloon…
On Saturday, Sadie will turn twenty. Sadie has special needs, one of them being the proper reading out loud of stories, from start to finish.
Goodnight stars. Goodnight air. Goodnight noises everywhere.
A child-protagonist’s naming of things, seen and unseen, consecrating them.
It’s compline at the Boggs house.
Once Upon a Time
Try to skip a few pages of a kid’s book, and your kid will let you know.
They understand that stories are meant to be told in their entirety—and in order. Yet oftentimes adult Christians rush headlong past the story’s start, though it’s clearly marked: In the beginning…
In Jordan’s sermon, adapted from a message by Rob Bell, he pointed to the trouble with jumping straight to the problem of sin as introduced in Genesis 3. When we pass over “God saw that it was good,” we’re left with a story chiefly about sin and a God who exists only to solve it.
Sin, of course, is a big piece of the story, the plot’s first turning point. Sin, the great disrupter, is serious. It’s as real and “practical as potatoes,” Chesterton wrote. But sin is not the main character; rather, we’ve been granted a God-centric story, the story of the restoration of shalom.
First there was the Word, the Life-Light blazing out of the darkness (from John 1:1; 5 MSG). In his image, he made us: his children, his beloveds.
And then we fall. Sin does not get the first word, nor does it get the last. As Jordan said—and this is one of the spots where I came undone: “Sin is not what is most true about you. There is a first word spoken over you.”
Undone, I tell you.
A Live Coal in the Sea
Sadie is our third child; before Sadie we welcomed twins, which, as you can imagine, disrupted our shalom. Shortly after bringing them home, I remember Maggie screaming when I scooped up Emma first from the crib.
Or maybe it was the other way around.
Whoever was screaming, a well-intentioned visitor—we had a parade of visitors—nodded and observed, “Ah, there it is, that sin nature.”
And I thought, Can you give them a minute? For one minute, can they just be babies, fresh from God?
Soon enough, Maggie would bop Emma on the head. Or the other way around.
Soon enough, they’d begin in earnest to compile their “long and sorry record as sinners” (Romans 3:23 MSG).
We humans have quite the rap sheet. It’s all right there in Genesis 3, those first crimes and misdemeanors. But let’s go a cut deeper, as Jordan said. Let’s return to the story’s true start, to the part where we’re bestowed with dignity and vocation, co-creators through Christ in restoring shalom.
Why is it so hard to wrap our heads around us as God’s handiwork? Why is our belovedness so difficult for us to accept? Is it because if I accept it for myself, I have to accept it for everyone? Or vice versa? Which is harder for me to grasp, that I am his beloved, or that other folks are?
All the wickedness in the world which man may do or think is no more to the mercy of God than a live coal dropped in the sea. — William Langland (1332–1386)
What if we believed, in our bones, in the water that douses? I suspect the cadence of our days and nights and nights and days would alter as we rolled up our sleeves to construct alongside the Constructor. We might even exult in the monotony of it all, knowing we’re treading on holy ground as we move toward the end of the story, the bit where all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.
There is another book Sadie likes, Home for a Bunny, in which a rabbit goes searching for a home.
Down the road and down the road he went, looking for a home.
He looks in all the wrong places, and no one lets him in. Until he comes to the right place, and they do.
And that was his home.
That most excellent of girls, Sadie knows how a story should end. As we close our bedtime books, she turns all tales into a version of Home for a Bunny. She adds,
And they became the best of friends, and lived happily ever after. The End.