By Christine Dykstra
His thin back was always hunched over his desk, his face leaning into his textbook, his hands moving slowly over notebook paper to form letters so small, I’d strain to read them. When this student I’ll call Luke entered my summer-school classroom that first day, he seemed studious, a high-achiever. By the end of the first class, though, an intensive high-school etymology elective, I knew something was off. By day two, I knew Luke probably wouldn’t pass the class.
He stayed with it, however. In a hard conversation with his mother later that first week, she told me that he cried over the difficulty of the assignments, assignments that were challenging for most students. Most students, however, by first week’s end, kept pace with them. Not Luke. His mother revealed what I hadn’t expected: he was taking the class not because he needed the credit but because he wanted to, because he loved words and wanted to spend his summer days studying them, though the extra academic services he’d received for years could not bridge this gap, though he knew it meant tears (both his mother’s and his own), and though he knew mastery would elude him.
I’m sorry I was only twenty-something, with compassion, yes, but with compassion more limited than it could have been. I didn’t fully see then what I do now. Luke could have dropped the class and taken the textbook home, told himself he’d spend a little time studying it on his own, and switched to video games each time the words became taxing. Instead, he stayed in the class and changed to audit status, and though he was always behind, he participated as best he could, doing the assignments, playing the class word games, and turning in his daily, always-less-than-half-finished tests long after everyone else was done.
I wonder why we, as humans, chase after the knowledge of things that are so difficult to comprehend. Why differential equations, orchestral compositions, quantum mechanics, or Kantian metaphysics? Even more, why do we seek knowledge of a God whose mind transcends our own, the author of a curriculum so massive in content, a test creator whose questions our small lettering and careful scratchings will never begin to answer?
Why do we chase after knowledge of a God so other, so without beginning or end?
Almost three years ago, I started a degree in theology. “What do you do for a living?” someone will ask me, and I’ll mumble something about leaving my career in education to pursue this degree and wait to see if the person will need clarification. Sometimes, I get polite nods. Sometimes, I get looks of smothered disapproval. Once, a sweet and well-meaning medical technician, who weaved the phrases “Praise God,” and “Praise Jesus” into more sentences than not, asked me the question. “I’m working on a master’s in theology,” I said, thinking I’d at least secure approval from her. She smiled and nodded, grew quiet for a moment, and then confessed she had no idea what theology was.
That etymology textbook I had once taught from introduced both Greek roots used in the word theology: Theo means God, and log means, among other things, study of. I explained this, and her smile returned, along with another “Praise God.”
Perhaps the greatest thing I’ve learned in my theological studies is akin to what I imagine a young child beginning to study astronomy would feel after starting with the earth’s sun and moon only to discover our planet’s location within a galaxy that may well be one of billions.
Where does the study of a galactical infinity take you? In a similar way, theology teaches you much, but at some point, you have to look up from your thousand-page systematics text and realize you are pursuing knowledge of the boundless Creator of that galactical infinity.
You can’t get through seminary without somehow running into Augustine; at least, I hope you can’t. Though I must confess about Confessions: I read it in my first semester of seminary and wondered, as I read those first few pages, if I’d been misled. Those initial pages seemed a blathering of thoughts with verses interwoven for good measure. But then I kept reading until I wasn’t underwhelmed anymore, and I got it, it seemed, got why a man’s quest for God could traverse the centuries, could seep into all the deep, soft places of a person’s being who ached for knowledge, who ached to find meaning. It spoke to my own three a.m. questions with words I could understand.
Augustine writes about his desire for God in the opening of Confessions, explaining that his desire for God came from God himself. “You made us for yourself,” he acknowledges, and later observes that God “called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness.” While Augustine couldn’t fully embrace that call for years, neither could he let it go. His search for God became long and circuitous: he writes openly, for instance, about struggling with sex, about sinning simply for the pleasure of sin itself, about pursuing academic success solely for prideful reasons, and about the many years of wrestling with philosophy and theology that left him adrift, adding questions and subtracting answers. For years God allowed Augustine to “go on turning over and over in that darkness,” distracted by the “lovely created things” of this world even as he searched for the one who created them. Augustine’s cry in describing his lost years echoes the experiences of many: “Where was I when I was seeking for you? You were there before me, but I had departed from myself. I could not even find myself, much less you.”
However, the God he was reaching for was, as he’d acknowledged, there before him, and slowly, Augustine later saw, he was “drawing closer.” His eventual conversion, after a chanting voice told him to start reading the Bible before him, eliminated his doubts. From this point on, his life was spent in service to God. That service included writing a magnitude of works about the study of God that lives on, over 1,600 years later, works that have led so many of us to a deeper understanding of the God Augustine once thought was eluding him.
Last week, I graduated from seminary, and this week, I find myself looking for two things: career options and, interestingly, other seminary degrees.
The simple truth is, I’m not ready for seminary to be over. I can continue to study God in other ways besides seminary, of course, and I will. But this God, who is at the core of who I am, who has spoken to me so beautifully amid even the driest words of theology ever to be written, continues to call to me through this kind of study. And so, the more I know, the more I hunger to know more, more of the God I’ve loved my whole life, since the moment I first knew of him.
He created me not just with a sense of him, but also with a love for him that grows the more I know him. I started seminary in part because I felt a vocational call, but as I sat in my classes, something began to be fed deep within me, something that somehow satisfies even as it creates a desire for more. I see everywhere how all things begin and end with the God who spoke the world into existence, who took on flesh to save that world, and who is, even now, making that world new. I see his beauty everywhere, in his hovering over pre-creation waters and Israel’s firstborn sons, in his exilic promise to make stone hearts flesh, in his post-resurrection bread breaking that opened blind eyes. How could I not hunger, seeing all this that I see? And so I hunger for more glimpses of him, for the panoramic view of what I now see only in part. Even as I lean in deeper, I know that it will never be deep enough, but I dive anyway, because I hunger for more.
I pray that God will continue to reveal himself, in all kinds of ways, for all the days that remain for me, even if it is only in the half-shadows my finite mind can comprehend.
Sometimes, I imagine Luke, long into adulthood now. I hope he continues to study words, with each bit of knowledge gained leading to the desire for another, and another, and another bit of the same. I hope the same will be true for myself years from now. I pray that whatever comes after the diploma, it will bring knowledge that feeds my adoration. I pray that God will spread glimpses of his presence across the galaxies of words and stories and his own creation, and that when I look up, I will see more of what I long to see: God there luminous before me.
Christine Dykstra works as a freelance writer and editor. She recently completed an M.A. in theological studies. Previously, she was a literacy specialist and an English teacher.
By Rick Hartwell
I see, on a page of poetry by Thomas Merton, the line “My sweet brother.” What I read and process instead is the line, “My street brother.” It sticks in my mind and becomes mixed with the scenes and people on a certain street in San Bernardino, California. I travel this route twice daily, and I see many of the so-called street people. And yes, they are my brothers and sisters; perhaps not by blood or birth, but by the shared humanity we must all have in common.
There are the dealers: drugs, sex, hot items of all kinds, religions, cultures, and philosophies possible. There are the users: drugs, sex, hot items of all kinds, religions, cultures, and philosophies available. And there are the refusers: drugs, sex, etc. One quickly memorizes the picture. But there are unique individuals growing through the cracks of the asphalt and concrete.
I noticed one morning the typical gang-banger walking down the sidewalk with his friend. The pants were slung low; the oversized, blazing white tee shirt was covered by the long-sleeved, flannel shirt buttoned only at the collar. He wore a thin strip of bandana around his head and across his forehead. His hair was oiled back and pulled taut into a short ponytail. He swaggered and loped from side to side down the sidewalk in unison with his similarly dressed friend.
Suddenly he turned and ran diagonally across the street, back toward what I presume is his home. He had heard a cry, or someone had yelled to him, or he had merely felt the impending loss of something that mattered to him. In any event, he dashed back across the street and scooped up the tiniest of kittens from the sidewalk. He strode purposefully back through the open gate to deliver the kitten safely back into the house and off the street -- my street brother.
I noticed one morning the newspaper vendors selling the local newspaper, The Sun, for a quarter from the corners where there are traffic signals. They make only pennies each sale, and yet they cooperate, sharing the same intersection, ducking and dodging the traffic like ricocheting pool balls bouncing from sale to sale.
There is one who stops and pauses and then dashes for the rear of a pickup truck momentarily stopped at a red light. Some might be inclined to think he intends to grab the ladder protruding from the opened camper shell, or to grab one of the available gallons of paint sitting on the bed just back from the open tailgate. He doesn’t. All he wants to do is retrieve a loose rope trailing behind the truck, unwound somehow from holding down the ladder, and stuff it back into the center of the pickup. He doesn’t even await a “thanks” or even try to sell a paper to the driver that might easily have been his natural due. He turns and dashes back across the street, dodging the starting traffic, to resume his calling -- my street brother.
In Christianity there is an ill-practiced theory of treating every stranger as if he were the Christ. I understand that myriad other religions also respect the inherent value of each person. From my perspective, of limited travel and views and streets, I try to see my street brothers and sisters for who they are and what they do beneath the stereotypes and societal labels. I try to carry their small kindnesses forward. I try to live the life I see on the streets.
Rick Hartwell is a retired middle school teacher (remember the hormonally-challenged?) living in Southern California with his wife of 47 years, Sally (upon whom he is emotionally, physically and spiritually dependent), two grown children, a daughter-in-law, two granddaughters and 16 cats! Don’t ask. Like the Transcendentalists and William Blake, he believes that the instant contains eternity.
By Jessamyn Rains
Step One: Go to Texas
This is not optional. You must go to Texas.
I recommend driving an old car with bad shocks and no air conditioning and Abbey Road blaring on your CD player. The Greyhound bus is also acceptable, especially if you share your pillow with a strange man and you stop and wander around Oklahoma City on a Sunday afternoon when it’s dead and quiet. Flying is not recommended because it gives the wrong impression, makes you feel like you can just get from here to there in a few hours and they give you peanuts or maybe a little Sprite or a cocktail, and that just isn’t the way it is with a broken heart.
You may think that if you pay your dues — shell out some cash or frequent flyer miles and put up with a little layover in Chicago — that you can bypass all the necessary states on the way to Texas — Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, preferably in that order — and get on with it, on with the recovery already, but you can’t do that. You’ll go there and have your air-conditioned flight, maybe read a book, maybe sit a little too close to the middle-aged man in a suit and pink tie with a briefcase lodged awkwardly beneath the seat in front of him, and you will just have to backtrack. You’ll just have to do it all over one day, and it’ll be harder and more expensive, kind of like when you bypass a bunch of toll roads and the government sends you a bill seven months later.
You cannot bypass the toll roads.
You cannot get on a plane and fly over the grief states.
You have to go through Missouri down winding roads and look at ramshackle barns and pass through these little towns, their fireworks, and their big billboard signs. The more pickup trucks you see, the better. The more truck stops you see, the better. It’s better if the sky is blue and the clouds are puffy because everything is sad in a sweet way when the sky is blue and the clouds are puffy.
When you go to Arkansas, all you really have to do is look at a few cows. It’s better when they’re lying on hills because they look happy, and you know that most of the cows in this country are not happy at all. Horses standing still and then running for no reason — that’s the best — if you can see this in Arkansas where the trees above you are a canopy over a red gravel road — and there happens to be a cow or two nearby with a tag in his ear staring at you — this is all very helpful.
Oklahoma is the best because you have all kinds of casinos: I’m talking casinos in gas stations. You just go and get some gas and maybe a bottle of water, and when you go to pay, you look through the dark glass and see all the slot machines. Even if you don’t gamble, knowing that you are among casinos is comforting because you are surrounded by all this human misery and degradation, and there is some kind of solidarity in all that because right now you are human wreckage. You feel like the old drunk man with his long stringy gray hair and broken-down front teeth and withered skin sitting on the bench outside the casino. People look at him, and you know what they are thinking. Well, that’s what you look like on the inside, my friend, and though it sounds bad, it’s really not that bad. It’s the human condition, and you’re a step ahead of everyone else because at least you are looking at it. At least you are there in Oklahoma staring at the human condition.
You will know you are in Texas when you see your first Whataburger.
I don’t have to explain why you’ve come to Texas. It’s self-evident. Wherever you go, you’re gonna dry out. You, my broken-hearted friend, are rain-soaked, and can’t you hear your bones: they’re all hollow, and the wind blows over them, plays them like a reed instrument, and I can see you standing there with the chills; well, the Texas sun is gonna blast that out of you.
The three most helpful people you will meet in Texas: a Spanish-speaking hairstylist who does your hair like an old lady and calls you “mija”; a Brazilian–Vietnamese waiter who invites you to go clubbing; and an Israeli salesman in the San Antonio mall who proposes marriage and sells you overpriced products from the Dead Sea.
Step Two: Reinvent Yourself
As a general rule, in self-reinvention you go toward light or darkness. You go to church, or you go to a biker bar. It depends on who hurt you, and how, and why, or what, and whether you blame God or the devil. If you blame God for your heartbreak, you go to the biker bar, or you wander the alleys at night, or you blast punk music on your iPod at lunch in the cafeteria, and you don’t even listen to it through headphones because everyone needs to know that you are listening to punk music because you are tougher and somehow more abrasive than everyone else, which makes you less vulnerable than if you were listening to, say, Josh Groban.
Or you sit in a place like Starbucks and listen to Black Sabbath, letting it leak out just enough to slightly annoy the yuppie sitting next to you. (Incongruity helps with self-reinvention.) There are all kinds of ways you can reinvent yourself, but the key is, it’s gotta be something you never did pre-heartbreak because you gotta create new neural pathways (the benefit of loud music is that it also destroys a few old ones), new roads in your brain that are unreachable, untouchable by the person/place/thing/event that broke your heart, and you’re trying to get it all tied up together again.
Alternatively, you could join a cult. One that helps you make sense of the injustices of the universe. One that promises you everlasting life in distant space with aliens. One that gives you the community, the relationships you lack. One that gives you a convenient end-of-the-world scenario to freak out about and thereby helps to take your mind off your heartache. It’s particularly helpful if there’s an element of morbidity; I recommend the snake-handlers of Appalachia, because in addition to snake-handling, there is poison-drinking, both of which are perfect metaphors for what you’re going through.
Step Three: Remember Unconditional Love
This is what we are all reaching for. This is what all the songs are about. This is the reason people listen to country music, the reason you just ate an entire pizza and a chocolate cake by yourself. Maybe it’s the reason for all kinds of things — like Las Vegas and Twilight and Justin Bieber — but I wouldn’t know about those things from experience. All I know is that many of us are looking for a kind of love that is bigger than our self-hatred, bigger than the contempt we harbor for whatever it is that disqualifies us from Unconditional Love.
Did you catch that? “Whatever it is that disqualifies you from unconditional love…”
(Yeah, it’s an oxymoron.)
But when you remember that it exists, you can move toward it. You can quit trying to earn someone’s love by being [whatever] enough. The idea that you can earn someone’s love is a fallacy. A person loves you, or they don't.
Well, I don’t have much to say about this right now, because I’m at home alone on a Friday night, drinking cheap wine. (Also, I’m chewing Trident teeth-whitening gum, and it’s not the best-tasting combination.) But I keep opening my King James New Testament Gideon’s Bible and reading it in random places: “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” God is the source and origin of unconditional love, and all our human imitations of it are subject to our human limits. But somehow, you have to get the unconditional love of God inside of you and give it to your fellow human beings, especially the ones who hurt you, because they are leaky vessels, all problematic and broken-hearted just like you. You will be happy to the degree that you can do this. (Not that I am an authority on happiness.)
Step Four: Pull Out the Old Sports Analogy
There’s a football game at my old high school tonight, just down the street, and I can hear the announcer’s booming voice. And, while I am not an athlete myself, I know that all the dramas of the human race are being acted out on that field and in the stands tonight, all the triumphs and failures, the battles, the losses, the romantic loves, the friendships and betrayals. Every once in a while someone has an injury — a concussion, a broken bone, a torn ligament — and he or she is forced to get off the field and go to the worst place anyone has ever gone — the hospital — and then to lie around at home for weeks while the world goes on without him or her, for better or worse, and then to go to physical therapy, which can be excruciatingly painful, with no guarantee that the affected body part will be restored, enabling them to be what they once were.
If you want to heal a broken heart, it helps to know which phase of the healing process you’re in, because if you’re supposed to be on the couch and you’re trying to put yourself back into the drama of the game, you’re likely to hurt yourself again, maybe worse this time. (This is analogous to flying to Texas instead of driving.) But if you’re supposed to be at physical therapy, and you are just lying around on the couch feeling sorry for yourself, you’re not likely ever to get off that couch.
And then, of course, there’s a time to get back into the game.
I don’t know where I am in this process because I don’t understand football. So I’m going to ditch the sports analogy and use a religious metaphor: purgatory. I do know that I am in a psychological purgatory, between heaven and earth, neither here nor there. Suspended from the human drama — pulled out of the action and interaction — there is nothing but suffering, and I wonder if this is all there is, if the rest of my life will be purgatory. But the good thing about purgatory is that it’s not hell. Also, there is heaven waiting.
And if you have some nice friends, they can pray for you and get you outta there faster.
Please pray for me.
Jessamyn Rains is a mother of four young children who writes and makes music. Her writings have been included in various publications, including Bearings Online (forthcoming), Heart of Flesh Literary Journal and Amethyst Review.
H. Jacob Sandigo shares reflections and photographs from his pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
From Psalm 139
The street musician, dressed in brown slacks and a white button-up, walks to the store for a pack of cigarettes. He lights one before settling into his chair. A tested ritual, the smoke seems to clear his lungs to let forth powerful and rich vocals. Anyone who has ever loved and lost or loved and sustained is named in his cantos. A hostess from across the way waves and calls out to him.
I learn his name is Luis. It is clear that his pear-shaped fado guitar has been a lifelong companion: each pluck permeates the space. Luis duets with an elderly woman passing from the market, who stops to converse in song. She comes alive with each note, and youth returns to her face. Her eyes beam like an icon of a saint. The woman keeps time, clapping her hands to back up the guitar. After the encore, she hugs the singer and says goodbye, almost forgetting her groceries.
Cafe A Brasileira: Lisboa, Portugal
The trolley stops often, adding to the music. Brazilian troubadours pass the hat as people stop to photograph the statue of the famed poet Fernando Pessoa. The shifting of glass and silverware, the hissing of the espresso machine, and the chatter that rises and fades from each table are familiar friends.
Cafes are primed for writing. I’ve sought spirit and forgotten the body, but these miles will remind me that the two are not separate but codependent. Ultimately, this is a journey from the head into the heart.
The yellow arrow directs my attention to a painted St. James holding a sign that reads, Bom caminho, o apóstolo espera por você (Have a good walk, the apostle awaits you). We’ve gorged on croissants long enough. It’s time to return to our route and make it to the Albergues (Pilgrim Hostels) before sunset.
Ricardo: A Rest Stop en Route to Esposende
Ricardo is a craftsman. He assembles jewelry with his wife and composes Camino-themed signs out of wood and iron. His workshop is a one-car garage. Each morning, he sets up a sign with an arrow pointing to his driveway: Pilgrims welcome. Two tables hold an assortment of goods. The quality of the items is exceptional, yet everything is humbly priced. When we arrive at his shop, Ricardo is talking with other pilgrims about how he just started selling on Etsy and was surprised at how many people across the world were interested in his art. Some of the countries, he had never even heard of. “I need my own Camino so I can go visit them!”
After the pilgrims leave, there is a lull of silence until my mom starts to ask about the origins of the shop. Ricardo pauses, looks to the sky for a moment, and says, “My wife and I struggled to have children naturally, but God provides, and out of the blue we’re having our fourth child, another boy, the old-fashioned way. On my thirty-third birthday, my wife went into labor, and I was in another part of the hospital recovering from open-heart surgery. Once I found out she was pregnant, I started to work longer hours. Fly here, fly there, always busy, always stressed, never home. I employed 3,000 people and worked this way for what? To die? To miss my children growing up? Now, I live a much simpler life. This is all I need.”
He motions to his wife and his home. “More than enough.”
My mom shares stories about my father and laments about how difficult this year has been without him. Ricardo stands, sincerely listening, hands folded behind him, careful with his responses, not rushing to reverse the conversation back to himself. There is no cliche in his condolences. He speaks like a man who has experienced deep loss, and because of his brush with death, he has stripped himself of any attachments to what the world prescribes as happiness. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?
My parents own a tax practice, and he inquires if anyone in the family is interested in taking it over and passing it on to their children. My mom says no, which makes Ricardo laugh. “Why would they when they can be hippies and travel the world?” He playfully pokes me in the side. “Just because I’m no longer a businessman doesn't mean I’m a vagabond. I try and show my children how to carve, but they aren't interested. That’s okay. They will find their own path.”
On the Road of Tomorrow
The American novelist Jack Kerouac was asked in an interview why, despite being a Catholic, he’d never written about Yeshua in any of his novels. Jack paused for a moment and then responded, “All I write about is Yeshua.”
The passing tides usher us onward. Taste the breeze of yesteryear, but do not get drunk on nostalgia. There are more chapters to be lived. What an existence to behold if one is attentive to the golden tulips that bloom before your very eyes: God’s mementos to those who skip the evening news and grasp at secrets sent by angels in disguise.
I’m half past midnight but still too early to call in sick. There are ugly sweaters in my closet, yet I know another by name. She greets me under the tangerine sunshine and tells me pain is temporary like Achilles.
Wisdom, be attentive! A brother's bond, thicker than thieves, sees me through a New Orleans flood.
The jazz band hands us a purple drink and says Thelonious Monk was rather solitary; he only had time for the prayers of his piano. I remember Christmas Eve when grandma still danced and played her records. The grandkids would turn on the organ and bang out a few rotten solos, but everyone was too in love to notice that the notes were offkey.
Do you remember that you were born, and the Almighty sent you a postcard that said congratulations on your first breath? The coming days will bring tears, but love is bound to see you through anything. I’m rooting for you and so are the saints who play backgammon in Bethlehem.
My Lord, please overlook the fact my brother took a coffee mug for his scrapbook. He’s a man for all seasons, destined for a perfect game. We wandered into 7-11 and found a papier-mâché Gandhi beside a People magazine. We wandered into a movie theater and found no pictures. We wandered beyond the tree line and found the Little Flower of Yeshua. No search is in vain.
At least you left the comfort of the couch and dared to begin. Lessons may tattoo the spirit. That’s okay. Not everyone can pass Go and collect 200 dollars. Breathe and let out all that wishes to poison you. When you are finally empty, you will be full. That is a promise no dollar-store gypsy can guarantee. Don’t look to the stars. Gaze beyond.
"'Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,' says the LORD, who has compassion on you."
I’m the only one awake in the hostel. After jotting this down, I’m reminded of a Bob Marley interview where he says home is in your head. You carry it, along with the people and places you adopt as occupants. My head is full of past travels and Meister Eckart quotes. Are his words attainable?
“As long as anything troubles a man, he is not in the right state. To be empty of all is to be full of God.”
I must decrease in order for Him to increase. God help me!
As we near the trailhead, we notice a bearded fellow who looks like St. Xacobeo playing the bagpipes. At his feet is a bohemian cap filled with stones and foreign money from various countries. We enjoy a song and then get to talking. His eyebrows rise when we say we are from California. I share a poem about San Francisco. To show his approval, he gifts me a handmade Franciscan cross.
We’d heard the bagpipes in the distance a mile before we got to meet him. The music reminded me of my father’s celebration of life. The piper at the service had studied in Galicia, the region we were now walking through. Mid-way through the song, he had to stop and said to my mom, “The energy here... The love... It is so powerful. My apologies.”
As my mother and I say goodbye to the Camino piper and continue down the road, she stops and begins to cry. “Do you hear what he is playing?”
It’s “My Way,” one of my dad’s favorite songs. We had made no requests, but as a monk I know says, “There are no coincidences.”
* * *
An Overheard Dialogue
"If you ask a priest to show you Christ and he does not hold up a mirror, then all his time at seminary was brock. Now don’t get a big head thinking you are some sort of Zeus or Hermes. You are a little g, an image of THE God. When you see a smile or look into the eyes of a tender soul, that is Christ’s very reflection. Throughout your life, there will be many instances where He says, 'Here I am.' You just gotta pay attention and cut back on these pints! Ironic words coming from an Irishman, I know.
"Where was I? Back to the Man with a plan. Like St. John, we bear witness to the Light. We bear Him within us just like the Blessed Mother! Ain't that something to behold? We don’t go through the whole process as she did, but I suppose the leaving behind of our old way of livin’ and thinkin’ are birth pains all their own. My wife wouldn’t agree with that after having seven children…
"Thank God for metaphor. Chapter One paints a clear picture for us simple folk: Christ is the light of all men and women. Yet He is before all creation, not some angel or demigod as some off-kilter sects would have you believe. No matter how dimmed our understanding may be. No matter if we have any inkling of comprehension of Him or not, He will be who He will be. This mystery is enough for me. Nothing other than God exists. That’s my final word. How 'bout you get this next round, aye?"
Plunging into the Mystery
The coastal villages greet visitors with towers of fish traps that serve as totems. As I walk along the shore, I notice the charming homes of fishermen. Their laundry hung out to dry, mostly work-attire coupled with children's clothing, and beautiful hand-embroidered blankets with floral designs. Most homes have tilework of the Virgin Mary or Yeshua. Interestingly, some of the homes are split in half and painted in different colors to distinguish between families.
What is it like to reside by the sea and earn a living from it? Does the lifestyle ever get tiring, or is it a beloved way of life? Perhaps it's the only option for some families, with generations of fishermen passing down their homes and boats to their kin, as was the case for Sts. Peter and Andrew. Their hard work supplies the community and pilgrims with delicious seafood. There must be something satisfying in that. I'm reminded of a Van Gogh quote: "The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore."
The Camino signifies that I have left the shore behind and am plunging into the mysteries of faith, life, death, and the side streets that lie in-between. I can't help but envision Vincent being content in this village. His soul would undoubtedly breathe life into the fishing rods, religious motifs adorning the boat, the striking coastline, and even a humble fisherman's boot, making them appear to encompass the entirety of the universe. With his unique eye for God's gifts and profound appreciation for nature, Van Gogh's brush would unveil the divine's presence in every aspect of his surroundings.
Epilogue: Sts. Peter and Paul Church, San Francisco, California
A drunk elder throws bread before a congregation of pigeons. The table of tourists beside the kit adds fries to the offering. It takes the action of one bold pigeon to nibble on a scrap before the others follow suit. The elder walks over to the table and says, “This scene is about as San Francisco as it gets. The city is named after Francis of Assisi you know… He loved birds, such a tender soul.” Spoken as if they’d been lifelong friends. The tourists nod and go back to biting into their burgers and scrolling through social media.
Inevitably, I find myself in North Beach. Like the poets of old, my demeanor advertises this truth: I’m beat. Seeking beatitude. Sitting on the green benches of Washington Square reminds me of my trips here as a teenager. This park was my confessional booth: many a night lost in a contemplative spliff, eyes heaven-bound looking up at Saints Peter and Paul’s Church, transfixed by the golden cross and outstretched arms of Christ. Despite paying no mind to God at this time, such a ritual served as a source of comfort, a solace beyond that of my tattered notebook pages.
My uncle told me a story of how the church refused to host his wedding ceremony. Despite being Catholic, he was not Italian, and therefore not welcome. This exclusion is not befitting of a church whose name translates to all-embracing or universal. For this reason, I refused to set foot in the temple out of protest. But the times they are a-changin'. The city is taking an incessant shower, and I’m no longer that boy. The weather calls for contemplation. Time to make amends.
I approach the steps of the church and enter. The first thing to catch my attention is the cosmic icon of Christ above the altar, his wide-ranging hands outstretched in an embrace, the Greek symbols of alpha and omega to His left and right. Yeshua’s face is not one of judgment or scorn, but sympathy.
After sitting with this icon, I get up, cross myself, and begin to walk the halls. The first statue I notice is that of Saint Roch. He was a familiar sight throughout our Camino from Portugal to Spain. Tradition says Saint Roch was born with a birthmark of a red cross on his chest. He joined the Franciscan Order and distributed his fortune among the poor. While living in Italy, he caught the plague while ministering to the sick and was expelled from the town. Ill and starving, he was saved when a hunting dog found him and brought him bread every day. He recovered and decided to devote himself to caring for the sick. Out of love for my dog Skippy, Roch was the name chosen at my confirmation. I pat the dog at his feet and say, “Hello old friend. Buen Camino.”
After spending time in the votive candle area, I pause before a mosaic of St. Joseph on his deathbed. The Blessed Mother is beside him, praying over his body and saying her goodbyes while Yeshua holds his hand and looks into his eyes. Joseph doesn’t appear fearful or distraught but rather at ease. This mosaic transports me back to when I had to say goodbye to my father.
Initially, our family wasn’t permitted into the hospital, but I believe my Pops was never alone. As I continue to walk with Yeshua, I see His words manifest both in my inner and outer experiences. Yeshua’s promise to us: one day we too shall enter into the fullness of Christ. "I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also" (John 14:3).
Until then, we enjoy the moments present within God’s freshly inked pages. I know in my heart that at Pop’s bedside, Christ clutched his hand and comforted him just as He did Joseph. The mosaic of the Holy Family holds my attention and takes me out of time and space. I am provided a peace I cannot express. Webster has yet to collect such a word that defines this sensation.
Thank you, Lord, for my father.
Before exiting, I notice another mosaic of Joseph and Yeshua in the carpenter’s workshop. Joseph admires his son as he learns to use the tools of the trade. I’m reminded of the days I’d go to work with my Pops. Reading and writing served as my outlets of entertainment while he was in meetings. One day, I learned how to use the copy machine and converted a vacant office into a “printing press.” This allowed me to write short stories and hand them out to neighbors and family members at dinner parties. Pops always encouraged my writing and provided the books and typewriters that helped shape my style. Even though he didn’t understand my desire to write, he still supported me.
I take my final glance at the child and hope I gave my Pops many moments like this. I feel a spiritual chill. More often than you know.
H. Jacob Sandigo is a jester of Jesus from Placerville, California, who enjoys pondering our present age through a Christian lens. The decision to swap in his car for a camper van inspired him to travel the country, hike around Europe, read at the International Poetry Festival in Nicaragua, visit spiritual communities all over the world and listen to James Taylor with monks. Jacob is most appreciative for the experiences, guidance and wit that individuals share with him along the Way. You can find his work on Substack.
By Sarah Pryor
Something caught my eye in the garden. Pulling at oregano stems for dinner, my hand grazed over an orange lump just cresting over the soil. Excitement and surprise arose in me, joining together in elation – to see, after all this time, growth.
I hadn’t gone out to dig for sweet potatoes that day. Most of my garden plants had already reached peak harvest by late September; the potatoes were the only ones left untouched, partly because of my theory that sweet potatoes are an autumnal vegetable and partly because I didn’t know the first thing about harvesting them. Sweet potatoes, like regular potatoes and most other things, were foods we just bought from the market growing up. This year was different: the first year of my own garden, at my own house. Planting potatoes was a spontaneous act, christening new ground for new life with new plants.
When I stumbled upon the first potato that day, unexpected awe filled me. I know it sounds dramatic, but I found it to be beautiful.
All beauty has a reference point beyond ourselves and our world. Harvard Professor Elaine Scarry discusses this idea in her book On Beauty and Being Just. She says when beautiful things are too self-referential, they start to lose their beauty: think songs about music or a book about writing. Works like these don’t often elicit surprise or connect new ideas. When the song ends or the book closes, we find ourselves to be the same people, in the same place, as before – trying to follow a moving dot that never moves. True beauty, she says, refers to something entirely other, beyond the imminent world.
Pastor Ted Kim elaborated on this idea in a 2020 episode of The Ferment podcast: “We get glimpses of the kingdom of heaven in the here and now.” A musical masterpiece, prolific writing, dare I say a juicy peach – are pieces of beauty and wonder piercing the veil of our material world, whose reference points bound infinitely outward, drawing our gaze away from ourselves and toward a distant north star.
“True beauty,” Kim says, “carries with it greetings from beyond.”
I understand it’s absurd to regard a sweet potato this highly, but I’m going to do it anyway. Not due to any one of its qualities, but simply by virtue of where it came from: a garden.
* * *
Backyard gardens have felt like important endeavors for as long as I can remember. As a child, I begged my mom to let me plant vegetables – not that I particularly recall begging, but it felt like she was doing me a favor, saying how much work these things are to maintain. We planted marigolds around the plot to keep bunnies away. I tended to them year after year.
For a couple of summers around middle school, I transformed my lemonade stand into “Sarah’s Vegetables.” I’d roll my mom’s old manicure table into the front yard, piling it high with cucumbers and green bell peppers. A cardboard box with a hole in the lid sat beside them, ready to receive donations. I think the homemade sign is still in my parents’ basement.
Moving away for college brought my gardening seasons to an abrupt end. I left behind ripe tomatoes and a bumper crop of cucumbers in mid-August, adding to the list of sad goodbyes. It didn’t help that it was hard to find good, inexpensive produce in the city where I moved. I walked through the supermarket produce aisles with disdain, wondering, “Why is produce so expensive? Why is everything smaller and less flavorful?” My parents would visit and bring bags of cucumbers — three for a dollar, as they should be — and apples for my roommates and me. I’d lumber back to my dorm after fall break, weighed down by a bulging cooler bag full of bell peppers and eggplant.
Someone observing me do this might think we didn’t have vegetables within city limits. In reality, I was stuck between living there and going “home” on holidays and long weekends. I pined for home, and a sweet, red bell pepper could transport me there, even if just for a moment. Like most young adults trying to figure out their lives, I had several hopes and dreams. But underneath my ambitions was a quieter one: to plant a garden in May and stay there long enough to see the harvest through. To have a place to land with room for a garden.
Fast forward a couple of years, and my husband and I have just passed one year of living in our home. When we moved in last January, my eyes often wandered out the back windows to the yard. An old wooden frame stood there, crawling with withered ivy vines. I dreamed warmly of the months ahead, of turning over the dead grass and replacing the ivy with grapes. In early spring, we invested hard labor into that dry, rocky terrain, jumping up and down on shovels like pogo sticks to break through the dead, yet strangely strong vines running along the ground. Hives crawled up our arms as we discovered the wooden frame’s ivy was poisonous – a poignant reminder that working the ground had become a cursed activity. We poured soil onto broken ground, laboring for a time when new grapes might replace the toxic and withering vegetation. We dug little holes for the plants and crafted a fence from wooden posts and chicken wire, praying life might spring up from this dying ground.
I’d never tried to grow a root vegetable before. The only viny plants I’d had before were zucchini and cucumbers, and of course, the pumpkin vines that grew from a couple of seeds I snuck into my mother’s flower beds one year after carving a jack-o’-lantern. She was less than pleased to see her shrubs overrun with vines, and they never did produce any pumpkins. Something about non-self-pollination. It was a bit of a lose–lose.
Growing root vegetables was much harder than I imagined. When to dig? Where to dig? There was one time, though, I got it right: that first potato, which grew so large it actually pushed itself above ground.
Harvesting that potato was much more of an involved process than I had bargained for. Its size and shape were largely a mystery, of course, which made digging a shot in the dark. After much cautious poking and aggressive tugging, I was shocked when a sweet potato the size of a child's head finally emerged from the ground into my hands. I felt a rush of adrenaline. Somehow I had freed it from the earth, though pressure bore down on all sides. It was radiant, though caked in dirt. My eyes were the very first to ever behold it. Maybe I’m projecting, but it was sparkling. Happy.
I took the potato inside and weighed it on the kitchen scale: two pounds, seven ounces. It was as if I had seen, just then, through a window into the mystery of birth. For a moment, it was wide open: beauty, cracked and filtering light, just for me. I felt compelled to recall memories I didn’t have. “It must’ve been something like this,” I thought, “in the beginning.”
* * *
The Bible tells us in Genesis that God created the first man from dust. He breathed life into his bones, then took one and made a woman. Bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. God placed them both in a garden. From dust, life.
Eden was creation’s epicenter – from it bursting forth flowers, trees, animals, people. The first human was born of the breath of God and the dust of the ground, in a garden. Adam, whose name itself means “man of the earth,” breathed his first breath in Eden, surrounded by unstained creation.
Communion with God was alive and unhindered there, growing along with cedar trees and green figs and birds taking flight: communion that, of course, was severed with a bite of forbidden fruit. This one act of rebellion banished Adam and Eve from Eden. They were tainted by sin, a strange disease, beginning to fester in their good and beautiful bodies. It opened their eyes and minds to evil, drove their feet in the opposite direction from their Creator. “They heard the sound of the Lord walking in the garden in the cool of the day,” Genesis 3:8 says, “and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord.” Feet, infested with sin, running for cover.
The strange disease drove them from that flourishing Eden, but their resting place landed them still in nature. After all, what other terrain was there? Genesis 3 says God banished Adam “to work the ground from which he had been taken.” Heading east, as they did, it feels far-fetched to imagine a hard scene break – rather, a kind of dimming effect from where they came. The terrain whispered of Eden, but with a gray overtone, stopping short of goodness, ground crumbling under their bare, cracked feet.
That rebellion sparked a chain reaction, playing out in evil, sadness and isolation. It continued to echo out, generations of people singing a groaning song.
Seventy-six generations trickled down before the birth of Jesus, whom the apostle Paul calls the last Adam. He triumphed in victory where the first man failed, even when that triumph was momentary death and defeat. He restored the barren land to flow with life once again.
Though Eden was Adam’s birthplace, it was also where he fell into temptation. Jesus arrived in a garden, too, coming to the Mount of Olives in Gethsemane with his disciples on the night before his crucifixion. He admonished them to “pray that you will not fall into temptation” (Luke 22:40). The next day, Jesus gave up his life on the cross. He was laid “in a new tomb,” in a garden. He experienced a momentary death in that garden, death that birthed life for many. A chain reaction, continuing to echo out even now.
Adam went from life to death in a garden. Jesus Christ, undoing that strange disease, went from death to glorious life – also in a garden.
* * *
This backyard garden patch has had its time of thorns and thistles. By the sweat of our brow did we cut open the earth to uproot what was dead, our arms suffering scrapes from prickly vines. How our back muscles strained, contending with the roots grown too strong, left too long. But even in this garden, even as we groan, that sweet Eden song sometimes sings.
I heard it in the harvest – in a sweet potato, caked in dirt, emanating the scent of creation, carrying “greetings from beyond.” My eyes were opened, if just for a moment, to that good place where creation bears glorious witness to the Creator. Falling backward and forward at the same time, I tumbled into that garden in glory. The one with a westerly breeze, bathed in light.
Sarah Pryor is a writer based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh with degrees in Nonfiction Writing and French, she interned for a year with Cru in France. Now, Sarah lives with her husband and works on the creative team for Lancaster-based NGO, Horizon: Empower the Orphaned, telling stories of life healing and transformation of children around the world.
By Sara Kyoungah White
My visit to South Africa begins with darkness. Disheveled from the twenty-hour flight, I step into the room at the bed and breakfast and find the light switches will not work. The last time I had sat in total darkness was several months before, out at the family ranch, where the Milky Way evanesced out of the night sky and my husband snored beside me. But my first night alone in South Africa, I have only the flashlight on my phone.
Strangers in a foreign land need blind courage; exhaustion saps me of any of that. I find the bed and lean back. At home, my children are watching the clock in the classroom, willing the minute-hand to click toward the dismissal bell. Here in the dark, on the other side of the world, the white sheet is over my head to keep the mosquitos from whining in my ears, and the temperature is unexpectedly cool. I am like a corpse in a morgue.
Lying in the darkness, I begin to hear the sound that punctuates my sleepless nights in Johannesburg and, later, at the lodge in Pilanesberg National Park.
The red-chested cuckoo emits this distinctive three-toned call for which it receives its Afrikaans name, Piet-my-Vrou. Its call fills my days and nights. Later, I learn that female cuckoos sneak into other bird species’ nests to lay a single egg, which it then abandons. The egg incubates quicker than those of the host, and when it hatches, the orphaned cuckoo chick’s first instinct is to kick the other eggs out. The unsuspecting host then raises the chick as its own. Records show female Piet-my-Vrous laying up to 20 eggs in one season, leaving in its wake entire broods of unborn chats, thrushes, and flycatchers smashed on the ground. There’s something familiar about it.
In the daylight, the call of the Piet-my-Vrou is lost in a gaggling audioscape of insect and bird calls I do not recognize, cackling and rattling and whooping like a thousand unseen hosts. I look for eggshells on the path between my lodge and the viewing deck, where there is an artificial water hole, a perfectly round circle of greenish blue.
1,200 million years ago during the Mesoproterozoic Era, when the supercontinent of Columbia was breaking apart and sexual reproduction was first evolving among eukaryotes, a volcano erupted in what is known today as Pilanesberg National Park.
The park is molded from the fiery bowels of the earth, a millennia-long imprint of a colossal eruption that hurled boulders and masses of land as if they were handfuls of dust. Three concentric rings of hills, known as an alkaline ring complex, provide a uniquely transitional habitat between dry Kalahari desert and the moister Lowveld vegetation, which we witness with each turn of the safari truck—grass and sand on one side, low-lying trees and hills on the other.
The rising or setting sun tinctures everything with a ruby gold light. Dawn and dusk are when the shadow of the ancient red fire passes over the land, glowing still, calling out life like a dare.
Life answers. The animals are out, grazing, walking, mating, hunting. I catch a glimpse of the silhouette of a giraffe against the green hills, towering above the trees, and I can imagine a time when there were dinosaurs here.
It is late November. Winter is at the threshold at home, knocking furiously on the door and shaking snowflakes to the ground in thick, rolling blankets. But in the southern hemisphere where I am, the rainy season of summer is beginning. Only the sun shows its quiet fury, and the red-chested cuckoo is calling, as if I have dropped through a portal into another world.
When I was a college student, I lived at a children’s home in the South Korean countryside for a year, teaching English. My home that year was a small two-room annex off the office building, facing the houses where the elementary-aged kids lived—the Joseph House for the boys, the Esther House for the girls. Most of the children who lived there were either abandoned or unwanted by their families.
I was a mediocre teacher, and the classroom left me feeling flustered. It was my first time so far from home, and I began to feel like an orphan myself. In my off-hours I would find refuge in the nursery, where there was a single baby girl and her caretaker, a quiet elderly woman whose wrinkle lines had settled into a perpetual good-natured grin. The baby girl’s name was Soo-yeon. They had found her in a trash can.
Something about being alone with a baby makes you completely un-self-conscious. I sang to Soo-yeon, something I would never do in front of anyone else. I held her little hands as she slept in my arms and made silly noises to make her smile when she awoke. I watched her grow from a tiny infant who mostly slept into a baby who could follow me with her eyes; from a baby who could sit without being held up, into an almost-toddler who could take wobbling steps. Years later, when I would have a baby girl of my own, I would think of her often.
One day I came to the nursery, and Soo-yeon wasn’t there. The caretaker told me she had been adopted.
Our field guide at Pilanesberg is a long-legged, cheerful Afrikaans woman with a small face and broad shoulders. Her name is Lara, but everyone unwittingly keeps calling her Laura.
Someone asks her, “What is the latest you’ve ever been out at night by yourself on the reserve?”
She replies with only a few second’s hesitation, “Midnight.” She heard the call of a leopard one night, like a handsaw ripping through tree trunk, and leaped out of bed to find it.
She has seen a thousand elephants in her lifetime, but she never seems bored. She and the other field guides spend hours each day driving gaping tourists and their cameras all over the reserve, scanning from left to right, right to left, to spot a rhinoceros or a hippo, hoping for the rare glimpse of a caracal. They speak sightings of animals into their radio with a holy pronouncement. On their days off, they go out together just to watch the dung beetles roll their perfectly-shaped balls. “I could watch them all day,” she says, and she has.
Her eyes can spot the curves and shadows of creatures from miles away, like how one might guess the silhouette of a loved one by their limps and proportions. Each time she stops the truck to point into the distance, it takes us a moment before the transformation happens: what we took for inconspicuous rocks morph into a herd of kudu on the hills or a white rhinoceros lumbering.
When night falls, Lara whips out a giant searchlight from the seat beside her as if conjuring it out of the darkness. One hand on the steering wheel and the other gripping the lamp, we bump along as she scans every tree and bush, sweeping the light from left to right, right to left, up and down trees, under bushes.
“I’m looking for the shine of eyes!” she shouts back at us over the roar of the engine. She doesn’t put the light down until she’s turned the engine off back at the lodge. She is still hoping to spot the leopard.
What is it that drives her? She and the other field guides do this day after day, and yet her wonder rivals ours, her depth of knowledge coloring our vision brighter. Her whole vocation seems to me a search and a prayer. She is like the woman who turns over the house to find her lost coin, or Samuel calling into the night.
We once lost our three-year-old daughter on a Sunday at church. My husband and I ran up and down the street, shouting her name, ran into rooms and out of rooms, asked every passerby if they had seen her. It was like being trapped inside an hourglass, the dread burying us deeper with each passing second, until the glass shattered and we found her. She was sitting in the back of the sanctuary, laughing, attended by a host of adoring college girls who were feeding her marshmallows.
We learn that what appears to be unspoiled, virginal terrain is carefully restored farm and mining land, wrought at great cost. I wonder to myself if anything is compromised by knowing that Pilanesberg is more curated Jurassic Park than wild jungle.
In the early 1980s, entire buildings and villages were dismantled and hauled away from Pilanesberg, every person and non-native species transplanted. In one of the most ambitious relocation projects ever, nearly 6,000 animals were then moved to the reserve from other parts of the continent. A buffalo grazing in a field would suddenly black out and wake up blinking in the light of a completely unfamiliar place.
Project Genesis, they called it. One article in the Los Angeles Times describes it as “rivaling Noah’s efforts with his ark.” The park spent nearly as much on the game fence surrounding the park as it did on the game itself.
We come across a lone elephant bull in the road, and Lara tenses. She checks all the signs carefully to make sure he is not in musth, an annual time of heightened testosterone levels that makes adult male elephants unpredictable and aggressive. He’s not, so we drive toward him, and he rewards us with a glorious saunter across the road, bathed in the orange filtered light of dusk, his tiny wrinkled eye never looking directly at us.
I later find out that when elephants were first brought to the reserve under Project Genesis, young orphaned bulls reached sexual maturity ten years earlier than they should have and went on wild rampages, resulting in the deaths of 17 rhinoceroses and several people. The issue was resolved when older adult bulls were brought in, and the young culprits were culled.
For how large he is, the bull elephant in front of us treads impossibly softly. He passes within arm’s reach, and his footfalls are all rustle rather than thunder. There is hardly a puff where his massive feet touch the earth. He is a dust-covered cloud, an apparition of the gloaming whose bearing is edged with mournfulness.
That night when I lie in bed, listening to the Piet-my-Vrou call ceaselessly through the hours, I begin to think in my delirium that it wants me to hear something. It dares to repeat, over and over again, something I have forgotten.
When kids who grow up in children’s homes turn 18 in South Korea, the government hands them a check for a few thousand dollars, and they are left to fend for themselves. Many turn to gangs, drugs, and prostitution and have kids of their own they cannot care for, continuing the cycle of abandonment.
One night while I was living at the children’s home, I was almost asleep when there was a terrific rattling of my front door, as if someone were trying to break in. The next morning, I learned that one of the aged-out kids had returned. The annex room in which I’d taken up residence was also where he would often spend the night.
I did not interact much with the older kids; they were sullen and cold to outsiders like me, unwilling to extend the possibility of being hurt. They had been hurt too often. But the children I taught were friendlier, maybe because of their age. They were boisterous, quick to laugh, whip smart, unpredictable second to fifth graders. One darling girl with sass would be happily reciting the Lord’s Prayer with the class one moment and then hurtling chairs across the room the next.
I grew close to the young boys of Joseph House, often helping them with homework and playing tag with them in the courtyard. Each of them came to trust me in their own way, and I grew fond of them, thinking of my own little brother at home.
But there was a darkness in them that always caught me by surprise. One day I came into their house, and it was too silent. I found them all in the back room, crowded around a small figure. With a sinking heart I knew it was the one they always bullied. They had put a bag over his head, and his hands were tied, like something out of a torture scene, and he was sobbing.
“I watched my father commit suicide,” tells me one boy who I grow particularly close to. He visits me often with his best friend, who wants to become the president of Korea one day. “He was drunk and cut his wrists with a broken glass bottle.”
Another time, a boy asked to borrow my phone. He was in fifth grade, and I, being a foolish young girl, said yes. I learned too late that he had stolen into the office earlier and pilfered his mother’s phone number. I watched in horror as his hopeful face hardened slowly into a raw despair, his mother’s frantic, anguished tone seeping through the phone. “You cannot call me again,” I hear her say clearly. When he hangs up, he hands back the phone without saying a word, his eyes like shuttered windows.
When we come across a parked pickup on the shoulder of a road, Lara slows and gives it a grim look-over as she drives past. It’s empty, with disheveled cartons and boxes rammed into the backseat. She mumbles something indecipherable about poachers, says something in Afrikaans into her radio, and kicks the engine back into high gear.
The rhino’s horn sells for more than gold or cocaine on the black market, says Lara. To make sure to get every last bit of it, a poacher will cut off the entire face, leaving behind a ghastly carcass. Poaching became a real problem during the pandemic, when the park was closed to visitors.
The rangers and caretakers at Pilanesberg recently made the emotional decision to cut every rhinoceros horn in the park down to a stub, in a last-resort attempt to deter poaching. So much of human–nature interaction these days seems to be a matter of choosing the lesser of two grave evils.
All the data show that cutting off a rhino’s horn has no ill effects on its quality of life. But Lara and the rangers have witnessed firsthand how the loss of a horn can impact the entire ecosystem. Take for example two young lion brothers, she says, who in a burst of immature bravado decided to go after a rhinoceros one day. They were underpowered and soon realized it. One lion went straight for the face of the rhino. It would have been gored to death had there been a horn.
I lie in bed awake and listen to a distant leonine desperation sounding into the blackness of night. I wonder if it is the same lion that attacked the hornless rhinoceros, the same lion we saw that morning, pacing a game trail and pausing to stare at us, black lips slightly parted.
I had never heard a lion roar before. I know they make many sounds. But the one I heard that morning was filled with such longing, I was unexpectedly moved by compassion, not fear.
I thought of my dog when he dreams in his sleep, twitching his legs, whining and baying for something instinctual. I thought of how babies can be comforted by a sweater that smells like the mother, or how a plant will always, however painstakingly, turn its face toward the light. I thought of the Piet-my-Vrou calling.
The lion we saw that morning scented a wildebeest before he saw it. From deep inside his chest came an anguished groan, like one who bore a curse, or one who knew what it meant to pray. I can never un-hear it.
When the people of southern Africa hear the call of the Piet-my-Vrou, they know the rains are coming and begin to plant their seeds. I had journeyed to the other side of the world without knowing that it was this call I had come to hear.
Every psalm I read that year in Korea reminded me of the children I lived with. Every night as I journaled my prayers, I sowed many tears on their behalf, praying for a reaping of joy, a bending of destiny. In the nursery, I often sang a Korean song over Soo-yeon based on Psalm 121. In it are bound all my hopes for her.
The Lord will guard you, He is your shade at your right hand. The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night. Lift your eyes to the hills--where does your help come from? Your help comes from the Lord, who made you and loves you.
Prayer is like bird watching, says Rowan Williams. You sit for hours and wait for the burst of wings and color to flash before your eyes.
Or prayer is like a game drive. Sometimes you go for hours without seeing a thing, and then you round a bend to find a serval in the road. Sometimes you stare off into the trees and feel the prick of eyes—a kudu with whimsically twisted horns is cautiously looking back.
Day and night, you wait for the moment when the radio crackles to say there are lions in the east field; when you flash a beam of light into the night, and a pair of shining eyes answers in return. Day and night, you wait for the moment when you hear a call sounding. You wait for the moment when you call in return, and the answer is not rejection but love.
I pray for them still.
Sara Kyoungah White is a writer and editor living in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her essays and poems have appeared in publications like Christianity Today and Ekstasis. She serves as a senior editor on staff with the Lausanne Movement, a Christian nonprofit.
By Michael Lyle
The Carvers were a trial.
There was a Carver on the rescue squad, a Carver in the church choir and every Sunday school class in the church, a Carver in the high school band, a Carver in the middle school, a Carver in the elementary school, a Carver on the church softball and volleyball teams, a Carver on community t-ball and soccer teams, a Carver at every picnic, meeting, or prayer group, a Carver in every parade. Every manifestation of church or community included at least one Carver.
Hank Carver, sometimes-employed husband, father (five times over), and generally good fellow, attended worship regularly, worked faithfully with the rescue squad and Ruritan, and did whatever good he could whenever he could. His wife Amelia (who on the occasion of her fifth delivery insisted that the doctor remove all possibility of a sixth) taught Sunday School, sang in the church choir (along with her eldest, a son and exceptional soprano), attended every PTA meeting, volunteered every time the pastor asked for help, and did whatever good she could whenever she could.
The lesser Carvers (son Jamie, daughter Edith, daughter Grace, daughter Candy, and son Joey), were, quite literally, everywhere else. It was not unusual to find several Carvers at the same place, and/or at multiple and widely diverse places, at the same time. The Carvers, like Moby Dick, were believed by many to be ubiquitous.
The Carvers also possessed other universally attested traits in addition to their great, good hearts, outgoing personalities, and omnipresence. Their cars were frequently under repair, their bills were usually overdue, the children perennially lacked transportation, among other things, and they were often caught in the grips of some extenuating circumstance or other.
Hank was perpetually on the brink of a new job, or just one seventy-five dollar part away from getting his truck back on the road. Amelia’s worn-out sedan was frequently one tank of gas, or one inflated tire, short of a trip to the doctor’s office, the pharmacy, the school (to drop off or pick up one of the kids, or to meet with one of their teachers), the church, or the supermarket. The kids usually lacked the instrument necessary for them to play in the band, funds for a week at summer camp, the deposit for the school trip, breakfast, funds for the youth ski trip, new shoes, hats, coats, umbrellas, lunches, belts, matching socks, dinners, pairs of glasses, or prescriptions filled.
They lacked these things until someone in the community heard about it and came to the rescue. If it takes a village to raise a child, it took an entire town to keep the Carvers going.
The Carvers were at the heart of the community, and the community’s heart never had an opportunity to stray very far from the Carvers. It was a textbook symbiotic relationship, except the community sometimes felt inadequate and occasionally resentful of its role.
The Carver kids were legendary for emptying any and every candy dish a household had to offer in one quick pass. It was nothing to see them flying out the door, mouths and pockets at maximum capacity. If no treats were clearly visible, one of the little ones would usually ask about availability.
Certain families stopped answering the phone on the days Candy would likely need a ride to (and of course from) soccer practice. In those days, before the Internet and smartphones, many acquired caller ID primarily to identify the Carvers. Everyone knew that once they agreed to give Candy a ride to the soccer game, or pick Edith up from band practice, or get Joey from preschool, they could be saddled with the child for hours, and sometimes through at least one meal. And because folks were uncomfortable dropping a nine-year-old off at home when they knew no one else was there, everyone opened their minivan doors, their refrigerators, and their hearts over and again despite promises recently and vehemently made to themselves to the contrary.
Eventually, the Carvers found their way into the very language of the community. If one had provided money, transportation, clothes, food, or any other means of support, or, as happened on occasion, all of the above, they considered themselves “Carvered.” Giving a lot of money, keeping a child overnight, or paying a utility bill was considered to be a “Major Carvering.” Dropping a Carver child off at home, inviting one to a family meal, or swinging by the Carver home to take a late-sleeping Carver to school, was considered to be a “Minor Carvering.”
To the extent that pretty much everybody in the community had been “Carvered” at one time or another, it was doubly true of the church. Mom Amelia often latched on to one person or family in the church at a time. About every two months, I got a call from a different upset and confused parishioner with the familiar story. Amelia had “been sharing with them,” and they had “started helping out.” Then Amelia had started asking for additional help. Then Amelia had asked for increasingly larger forms of help. Then the person began feeling used and confused and decided to call the pastor. Those within the congregation who had been “Carvered” grew at an alarming rate.
The Carvers were a trial, and a peculiar kind of godsend. The Carvers generated more theological discussion and more visceral wrangling with Christian ethics than any sermon, class, lecture, presentation, or activity I’ve experienced. They provoked ongoing wrangling with servanthood, forgiveness, honesty, patience, love, stewardship, and the nature of Christian community.
The Carvers gave liberally of what they had: love, honesty, strong bodies willing to work long and hard, musical talent, faith, and their unique selves. The Carvers loved and served well, and they were well-loved and served in return, as well as fed, transported, tolerated, subsidized, clothed, forgiven, gossiped about, complained about, embraced, prayed about, prayed over, prayed for, and avoided.
No one ever figured out what to do, what not to do, or when and how to do it, or not. Everyone occasionally wished the earth would open up and swallow the Carvers and their needs whole, and everyone simultaneously wondered how to love them better and how we would get by without them. The Carvers were a trial.
Every family and every person was ultimately left to make her or his own peace with the Carvers and how they should be handled. My moment came one Christmas Eve.
I grew up hearing about how Santa was always so worn out from his work on Christmas Eve that he slept for a week, carefully ministered to by Mrs. Claus and the tireless, subhuman elves. It didn’t take many Advents and Christmases as a minister for me to completely understand such fatigue.
I’ve done manual labor, worked in a department store during the holidays, and worked in other high-stress jobs, but the weariness I feel on Christmas Eve as the pastor of a local church surpasses anything the secular world has thrown at me. And it’s not the multiple services, the secular expectations, the inexhaustible details, the parties, receptions, celebrations, or engagement with rampant consumerism that does it. It’s the illusory holiness that can’t quite be grasped that really takes it out of me.
My family had given up on me years before. I had surrendered being “normal” during Advent and Christmas, and they had given up trying to interact normally with me. Everyone had learned to maintain a certain distance.
Sometimes I would catch them whispering about how I seemed to be doing when they thought I was out of earshot. They would give me looks of genuine compassion and periodically inquired as to how I was “making it,” or would simply place a loving hand on my shoulder. But by the time Christmas Eve arrived, the parsonage decorations were up, gifts wrapped, and my wonderful wife, daughters, and sons-in-law safely gathered in, I was pretty much beyond reach, and everybody knew it. They loved me anyway and waited patiently for my eventual, gradual return.
The Christmas of my “Carvering” was as idyllic as it could possibly be under the circumstances. Our lovely, historic town was decorated to a standard sufficient for any Christmas story set in any English village or Currier & Ives lithograph. The beautiful, old church was glorious in its Yuletide finery. It was appropriately cold, and flurries had swirled all afternoon.
The town always celebrated a 7:30 P.M. ecumenical service at which one of the town clergy preached and all the others participated in the service. These community services were much anticipated, and the preacher usually started on her or his sermon in October. (I still recall the sermons I preached on those occasions as well as the ones I heard. If we all had put that kind of time and energy into our weekly efforts, there wouldn’t have been an empty pew for miles.)
These were occasions at which the host church, host pastor, guest preacher, and everyone present displayed their very best. Grown children of local families knew that if they were coming home for Christmas at all, they’d better have themselves present and presentable by 7:30 P.M. Christmas Eve. College students home for the holidays sat with their families and acted like their faith was more important to them than ever. These were much-anticipated, special gatherings of a close-knit community in which all cared about the others and knew more about one another than was healthy or necessary.
By 10:00 P.M., however, everyone had resorted to home and hearth. A few still visited from house to house, delivering home-baked goodies and spreading Christmas cheer, but most were done and gathered in. The town lay quiet, as only we Methodists ventured back out for 11:00 communion. So picturesque was this particular Christmas Eve in the Blue Ridge Mountains that I had begun to believe this might just be the year that I arrived home from the 11:00 P.M. candlelight service ready to relax and celebrate.
In spite of myself and the vagaries of the season, I mostly looked forward to those late services on Christmas Eve. They had become the essence of Christmas for me and for a goodly number of others, and they attracted a diverse crowd. People who didn’t even attend worship on Easter ventured out in the late-December cold each Christmas Eve to hear the story again, sing the familiar carols, and light their little candles. Those services, of the many in my life, remain the most beautiful and peaceful of my experience.
That particular evening, a mystical holiness hung palpably in the air. The service flowed seamlessly, the worshipers departed in joy tinged with awe, and scattered snowflakes fell as I wished the departing congregation “Merry Christmas” on the church steps. My family waited patiently with me as I made sure all the candles were well out and began switching off lights. Finally, I told them to go along home, that I would be there in a few minutes. The parsonage was a short walk up the street, just on the edge of the town. I simply wanted to spend a few minutes alone in the quiet sanctuary.
Tears filled my eyes as I knelt at the communion rail in the stillness of the darkened church. Like a shipwreck survivor fresh from a perilous, crowded raft, safely ashore at last, wrapped in a blanket and cupping a mug of soup, I blubbered heartfelt thanks for deliverance and my life’s innumerable blessings. Spent and calm at last, as I rose to gather my things and enter ever more fully into the childlike joy of Christmas, I was startled by Candy Carver’s silhouette, illuminated by the light coming through the doorway leading to the rooms behind the sanctuary. “I need a ride home,” she said.
How long had she been standing there? Had she watched me kneel and cry like a sentimental child? Where had she been as everyone else was departing? How had she gotten there? Where was her family, and on Christmas Eve for God’s sake?
My cozy Christmas Eve was suddenly adrift in a fog of resentment, covering me like a pall of lead. Here I was again on Christmas Eve, spent yet again, my expressions of relief and release answered by a punch in the gut.
“Where’s your family?” I asked. “Isn’t someone coming for you?”
I thought of my family waiting for me up the street, anxious to open our one Christmas Eve gift each before turning in, and ready to finally get “Christmas” underway. I thought of how they were probably expecting more of me than usual because of the good place in which they had left me just moments before.
“Mom said I should get a ride with somebody.”
Except we were all out of somebodies. At that moment it felt as if every other somebody in the world was sitting around the tree with their family sipping eggnog while I stood there wishing all the Carvers lived on Mars. Of all the somebodies in the whole world, I was the one being “Carvered” on Christmas Eve.
“Can’t we call your house and have somebody come pick you up?”
“Our phone’s not working right now.”
“Get your coat. Let’s go.”
I fumed all the way to the car, all the way through town, and halfway out to the Carvers. Finally, I came out of myself and looked over at Candy. There, all in a heap, bundled up in a worn-out coat two sizes too big, sat the entire Carver story embodied in that one child: all the embarrassing situations, the awkward requests for assistance, the hand-me-down clothes, unpaid bills, unappreciated duties grudgingly performed by over-used friends, neighbors, and church people. It all draped from that child like the acolyte’s robe she had but recently hung in the sacristy. Only this time it was her pastor whose irritation shone through.
“What do you want for Christmas, Candy?” I heard a kindness in my voice that hadn’t been there since I’d bidden my family to go ahead home.
After a silence, Candy named a couple of things popular with her age group that year. Both were expensive, and I knew she wouldn’t be getting either.
“Anything else?” She named a couple more little things, and then we were at her house.
“Thank you for bringing me home,” she said.
“You’re welcome, Candy. Merry Christmas! I hope Santa is good to you. You deserve it. And thank you for being our acolyte tonight.”
She smiled and closed the door. She let herself in the house. The light was on, but nobody greeted her except the two scroungy dogs that lived under the house and had come barking and snapping at my tires as we pulled up.
Candy alone, of all her family, had come to the late service that night to acolyte for me, for all of us, and I was so caught up in myself that I hadn’t even noticed. Too embarrassed to impose on anybody else, she had waited around to ask her pastor for a ride home. She had waited for the safest person to impose upon, and yet had experienced the same old resentment yet again.
Had I undone everything the service might have offered Candy? Had we really offered her much of anything in the first place? The wonderful feelings of my personal Christmas experience certainly weren’t hers. She was a Carver. Carvers were a trial.
It was deathly quiet as I drove through town, passing the churches, houses, and small businesses of people I knew. As I passed my own now-dark church and headed up the street to the parsonage, I knew Candy would forgive me, probably already had if she was thinking of me at all, and that the seasonal, popular Christmas spirit had been replaced by something altogether more profound.
Michael Lyle is the author of the poetry chapbook The Everywhere of Light (Plan B Press), and his poems have appeared widely, including Atlanta Review, The Carolina Quarterly, Crannóg, The Hollins Critic, Mudfish and Poetry East. He lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
Michael's other work on Foreshadow:
Wick of the Soul (Poetry, October 2022)
Tennis Players (Poetry, October 2022)
Yahweh (Poetry, October 2022)
Family of God (Poetry, October 2022)
By Katie Baker
Vocation: a strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation. (Oxford Dictionary)
I will be upfront with you. I do not feel a strong feeling of suitability for my chosen occupation. To be honest, I was not exactly proactive in my choice. Post-Bible college, my only requirements for a decent job were 1) not working on Sundays and 2) stability of schedule. The first requirement was God-focused; the second was me-focused, and I did not pray as much about any of it as I should have.
The result of this lackadaisical approach is that I have found myself working in one of my least favorite fields for the last 10 years. Yup. 2022 was my big 1-0 anniversary with its resulting bump in paid time off. The other side effect is that I do not, and never really have, felt called or suited by God to work in the banking industry. I have always enjoyed words, not numbers—ideas and stories, not finance. Therefore, I feel called by God to something that is not my 9-to-5 job. Something that does not pay the bills. I have been a writer and a storyteller for as long as I have been able to read, and that is where God has placed my passion.
When I was 23, this sort of disconnect did not bother me; I was mostly worried about paying off my student loans as fast as I could. Now that I am 33, the line between what I am doing and what I feel I should be doing feels muddled. Is it okay with God if we spend all our life doing what we view as a meaningless job? Would God even agree that there are meaningless jobs? (Do I even agree with that supposition?) Can I be true to my calling while spending all my mental energy for a paycheck? It’s a rough, if not non-existent, accomplishment some days.
Then I think: Well, sure. Sometimes God calls people to certain vocations that also serve as their “9-to-5”. We most associate missionaries and pastors with this reality. But the Bible also does a lot of talking about toil and the sweat of our brow—results of any vocation, whether God-called or chosen of necessity. After all, many of the figures called by God in the Bible had to have “day jobs” to support their ministries: Paul was a tentmaker. Peter was a fisherman. Lydia was a seller of purple.
So why do I feel such dread and shame when someone I have not seen in forever asks, “Well, what are you up to now? You still work at _____?”
It never fails. I always cringe. “Yup. I’m a blah-blah-blah clerk. Very exciting, I know.”
If anyone asked the Apostle Paul what he was up to lately, I doubt he was replying with an abashed, “Still sewing those tents.” Pretty sure it was more like: “Spreading the Good News about Jesus Christ.” I doubt his occupation entered his mind at all when the shekels and generosity of the churches grew a little tight. Paul’s life mission was not to sew tents, even though that is an admirable profession; it was to reach people with the gospel of Christ.
And isn’t that every follower of Christ’s first and foremost vocation? To show the truth, light, and compassion of Jesus to whomever is around, no matter what we may be doing?
Who is to say I cannot proudly answer the question “Oh, what do you do?” with “I’m a lover of Jesus. A writer. And a blah-blah-blah clerk”?
God may call some of us to make a living with the calling he has given us, and he may call some of us to scribble into notebooks and post on blogs, never really knowing who needs our voice and never really knowing if it makes a difference. He may call some of us to punch a clock at a job that intellectually bores us so that we can pay the bills for—or (maybe!) have a break from—the God-centered work we are called to do in our spare time.
The word vocation conjures up more than just a 9-to-5 paper-pushing or ditch-digging job; it conjures up a sense of purpose and completeness. God calls us to a higher purpose than pursuing money or simply paying the bills, knowing full well that we will still need to pay the bills. In my life, my higher calling often collides with my day job by supplying me with inspiration to write about, and sometimes it opens up my highest calling when I am given the opportunity to show a co-worker or a customer the grace and love of Jesus.
Although we can easily compartmentalize our life into work/home/hobby, God does not want us to compartmentalize Him. He wants the fullness of all of our moments ordered under Him, in sync with His will for our lives so that we can say like tent-maker Paul, “In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:12b-13). God calls us to serve Him in every moment, on every platform. Even if you are like me and do not love your job, there must be a reason He has put you there for this season, however long it may last.
Perhaps we are just a little bit too Western when we ask someone what they do and expect their 9-to-5 job to actually jive with their life purpose. Maybe we draw ourselves into these boxes by trying to keep pace with those around us who measure their success in currency symbols, promotions, doctoral degrees, and all those initials lining up behind their names. Our faith tells us that all those things, as nice as they are, if pursued outside of the will God has for our lives, will be so much hay and stubble when we reach heaven.
Earlier in Philippians chapter 3, the Apostle Paul lists out his whole resume, all of the reasons he has for “confidence in the flesh” according to his culture and his religion. It reads exactly like someone today who has all the initials lining up behind his name, but because Paul’s calling was beyond all of that, he ends his pedigree with this realization: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3:7–8)
Sometimes I have to take a step back and remember where God wants me when I am beating myself up because I am bored or stuck in my day job. I have to remember that it is God who gave me a passion for writing stories in an era when writing stories is not always profitable, and when I am wondering if anyone will ever read them and hear whatever it is God is trying to say through me. I need to forcibly remind myself of God’s grace and sovereignty when I get into that headspace where I believe my job does not fit because I do not like finance. Just because our perspective is too limited to see something’s value does not mean that that something is valueless. Above all else, I am called by God to have a correct perspective of my life and those things He has tasked me with doing. Despair can happen, but we do not need to stay there.
I suppose God’s answer to someone like me whose vocation is beyond their occupation might just be, “Focus on Me, and keep on keeping on.”
Katie Baker is a graduate of Clarks Summit University with a Bachelor of Arts from their writing programme. She lives in beautiful upstate New York and writes mainly fiction that deals with the truths of life even in the small moments. Her work has been previously published in Adelaide Literary Magazine, TWJ Magazine, and Torrid Literature Journal. You can find and follow her writing at Seekingprose.com.
Please support us by sharing this post or buying us a book.
When the holy Abba Anthony lived in the desert he was beset by accidie, and attacked by many sinful thoughts. He said to God, 'Lord, I want to be saved but these thoughts do not leave me alone; what shall I do in my affliction? How can I be saved?' A short while afterwards, when he got up to go out, Anthony saw a man like himself sitting at his work, getting up from his work to pray, then sitting down and plaiting a rope, then getting up again to pray. It was an angel of the Lord sent to correct and reassure him. He heard the angel saying to him, 'Do this and you will be saved.' At these words, Anthony was filled with joy and courage. He did this, and he was saved.
Someone asked the same Abba Anthony, 'What must one do in order to please God?' The old man replied, 'Pay attention to what I tell you: whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes; whatever you do, do it according to the testimony of the holy scriptures; in whatever place you live, do not easily leave it. Keep these three precepts and you will be saved.'
Abba Pambo asked Abba Anthony, 'What ought I to do?' and the old man said to him, 'Do not trust in your own righteousness, do not worry about the past, but control your tongue and your stomach.'
Abba Anthony said, 'I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said groaning, 'What can get through from such snares?' Then I heard a voice saying to me, 'Humility'.
He also said, 'Our life and our death is with our neighbour. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalise our brother, we have sinned against Christ.'
A hunter in the desert saw Abba Anthony enjoying himself with the brethren and he was shocked. Wanting to show him that it was necessary sometimes to meet the needs of the brethren, the old man said to him, 'Put an arrow in your bow and shoot it.' So he did. The old man then said, 'Shoot another', and he did so. Then the old man said, 'Shoot yet again', and the hunter replied 'If I bend my bow so much I will break it.' Then the old man said to him, 'It is the same with the work of God. If we stretch the brethren beyond measure they will soon break. Sometimes it is necessary to come down to meet their needs.' When he heard these words the hunter was pierced by compunction and, greatly edified by the old man, he went away. As for the brethren, they went home strengthened.
It was revealed to Abba Anthony in his desert that there was one who was his equal in the city. He was a doctor by profession and whatever he had beyond his needs he gave to the poor, and every day he sang the Sanctus with the angels.
Abba Anthony said, 'Whoever hammers a lump of iron, first decides what he is going to make of it, a scythe, a sword, or an axe. Even so we ought to make up our minds what kind of virtue we want to forge or we labour in vain.'
From The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (trans. by Benedicta Ward, SLG).
Please support us by sharing this post or buying us a book.
By Anthony S. Zimmer
Maybe that job is a sacrament by which we are becoming Christian. Maybe it is saving us.
We dreamt of achieving a vocation – and we worked hard for it! I remember the diligence, the faithfulness. But we live east of Eden. We strove to flourish, to “bloom where you are planted”, but the ground was cursed, and our souls withered on the vine, replaced by thorns and thistles. Those failures – the pain, the anger, the frustration, the despair – exposed our hearts to ourselves.
And what is sanctification but first the revealing of our hearts? And what is sanctification but second the giving and receiving of grace? Maybe that job, like baptism, is a plunge into dying and a grace unto living.
Can our half-saved hearts trust us with the jobs we want? Might it not root our hearts deeper into the soil of a corrupted kingdom? Might not Money/Pride/Power, its accumulation and storage, accumulate and store us? Might we become too sated by this fallen kingdom and forget how to criticize it, forget how to mourn?
We forget that our first vocation, our first divine calling, is to pick up our cross and follow Christ.
Do and be. Leave
will do and will be
to the vagaries
and the constancy of grace.
Anthony S. Zimmer has served in a variety of pastoral roles in America and South Africa. Bi-vocational, he lives and works at the nexus of business, missions, local ministry and theology. He holds a bachelor’s in Bible and Theology, an MBA, and is working towards an MA in Biblical Interpretation.
Please support us by sharing this post or buying us a book.