Several people recommended that I read David Bentley Hart’s The Doors of the Sea, which is a theological reaction to the 2004 tsunami. The book has been rich as I contemplate an improvising God. It’s also violated my no-church-books-in-summer rule. It’s hard to read serious theology, however engagingly written, when it’s 97 degrees. But I digress.
Here’s a choice bit that critiques what you might call a “high doctrine of providence” which is woven into the Reformed Tradition (of which Presbyterians are a part).
There is, of course, some comfort to be derived from the thought that everything that occurs at the level of what Aquinas calls secondary causality—in nature or history—is governed not only by a transcendent providence, but by a universal teleology that makes every instance of pain and loss an indispensable moment in a grand scheme whose ultimate synthesis will justify all things. But consider the price at which that comfort is purchased: it requires us to believe in and love a God whose good ends will be realized not only in spite of—but entirely by way of—every cruelty, every fortuitous misery, every catastrophe, every betrayal, every sin the world has ever known; it requires us to believe in the eternal spiritual necessity of a child dying an agonizing death from diphtheria, of a young mother ravaged by cancer, of tens of thousands of Asians swallowed in an instant by the sea, of millions murdered in death camps and gulags and forced famines. It seems a strange thing to find peace in a universe rendered morally intelligible at the cost of a God rendered morally loathsome.
photo: A temporary school on the sandy beach on the Tamil Nadu side of Pulicat, one of the largest lagoons in India. When islands here were partly submerged by the the 2004 tsunami and families lived in temporary shelters, this school was a hub of education and social activities. Credit: climatalk via photopincc
Yes… yes. I needed this. Today would have been my father’s 66th birthday. It is a rock-em-sock-em day… but in the midst of it, I will remember him.
God, I am rushing, just brushing by, passing
my life on the street without greeting,
breathless and ceaseless,
skimming my life without taking it in,
distracted and fractured and shallow.
Be the lead in my life,
the molasses, the waist-deep snow.
Be the awkward weight, the icy walk,
the dark room with rearranged furniture
that forces me to go slow and pay attention.
Give me a weak heart, a breathing condition
that makes me pause now and then
and begin again, slowly.
Be my fine print, a foreign language
so I lean forward, listening to each word.
Be the unseen voice for which I look around,
the smell of baking bread
that makes me back up to an open door.
Be my stillness, my Sabbath, my stopping,
the Enough that it is to be here.
Even as I go, give me courage to give up,
to accomplish nothing,
to get deeply, truly nowhere at all
It’s when we face for a moment
the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know
the taint in our own selves, that awe
cracks the mind’s shell and enters the heart:
not to a flower, not to a dolphin,
to no innocent form
but to this creature vainly sure
it and no other is god-like, God
(out of compassion for our ugly
failure to evolve) entrusts,
as guest, as brother,
“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”
I love a good quote, and this one from E.B. White is one of my favorites. It’s the first of twelve epigraphs in my book, Sabbath in the Suburbs.
The trouble is, there are thirteen chapters.
A big publishing house that will remain nameless didn’t bother to answer my request for permission to use a verse of this wonderful poem. So, I need a new quote and I need it by tomorrow.
No sense in drawing these things out, eh?
Obviously the quote should have something to do with Sabbath, or time, or living gently in the midst of our days. It can also come from the other direction and highlight the frantic busyness that grips many of us. It must not require me to seek permission, which means it can be from a book but it can’t be more than one line of poetry, hymn, song, or prayer, unless it is in the public domain (generally pre-1923).
Comment here or on my Facebook author page or e-mail me at maryannmcdana (at) gmail (dot) com with your suggestion by 5 p.m. EDT Tuesday June 26. If your quote is chosen I’ll send you a copy of the book when it comes out, plus an added surprise bonus.
Image: bonus photo of my Meglet, who improves the world simply by enjoying it.