When I was younger, in grade school, junior high and high school, I wrote stories, fiction. I wrote fiction because that is what I read. And I wrote fiction because it was fun. I wrote reams of the stuff. I quite consciously imitated the authors I was reading, their style, their pacing, their plots. It was a good apprenticeship of sorts, if haphazard and without the sort of mentoring a writer needs to find the soul within his craft.
Although I hope for news that Grandpa is getting better, I have been given to accept that he may be in his last days of this mortal life. My prayers go out for him to heal and to recover, that we may have more time with him. My fears and sorrows are that he may not be long with us.
Not surprisingly, then, memories of Grandpa have come rising to the surface in these last few days.
When he spoke, it sounded to the young boy like he was gargling gravel and grit. The quality fascinated him as he listened to his grandfather intone the prandial prayers. As the runny eggs and the bacon were being finished and the last cup of coffee was slurped, he’d been given instructions as to the chores to be done before heading out to set endposts in concrete. They’d later loop barbed wire diagonally in an X around the two thick stumps. He’d be given the task of twisting the barbed wire to increase the tension. The pliers he would use would slip, slicing off his fingernail. Between now and then there would be silence. He would be expected to remember and to know all that he had to do. This was the way of it. Questions might be answered once, but after that greeted with exasperation. Then silence punctuated with a grunt and the shaking of the head. He’d have to figure it out himself.
It was a hard way for a young boy to prove himself.
There are wounds and there are wounds. Some you can live with. Others forever change your life. Some heal. Others never do. Some have a didactic benefit. A boy who thinks he can parachute off the roof of his house by holding the corners of a bedsheet over his head can thank the teaching of a throbbing ankle for the lesson as to why this is not a good idea. Others, however, seem to have no discernible benefit at all. There is pain. Then there is living in pain. The lonely parents standing over the empty bassinet surely have a sense that however many children follow after, that empty space will not be filled.
A bewildering array of semi-professionalized terminology awaits anyone who simply wants to know how to fulfill Christ’s command to make disciples. Formation. Paedagogy. Spiritual direction. Ascetical theology. This doesn’t even touch on methodology. Cell groups. Class rooms. Home studies. But one thing you can be sure that nearly all of these “programs” and “methods” will be chock full of: information. Information is reproducible (I won’t be so cynical as to say marketable, but there you are). One thing you will not find so much of is twelve men shuffling dusty through the Galilean countryside. That’s a problem.
The way we train and educate fellow Christians today says a lot about what we believe about the Incarnation.
In the early winter mornings, as the skies are lightening, the dark reluctantly letting go its hold, a hidden sun spreading a dull grey over the landscape, a man will awake to silence. He will heave himself out of bed, dress, put on his coat, hat and gloves, and don his boots and walk outside. He has not taken his coffee or his breakfast. He may squint a little out of habit, and tilt his chin just so out of reflex against the cold. Then the crunch of his boots in the snow will sound like gunshots over the blanketed prairie.
He will greet the silence with his own wordlessness. Whatever it is that may lie in his heart, having been ruminated on while he slept, he will slam the door on it and lock it within. There is work to do. No time for words. And what would he say? Would he toss forth all the foolishness lying in his chest? Words are costly. He would not waste them so.
There is another silence. In the pressing heat of the summer noonday on the prairie, the wind dead and still, a man will find the words stifled in his mouth as sweat drips down his neck and runs the length of his spine. Standing by the pickup, the water jug no longer cool, the silence is heavy with something like a dread. He will not know if he has the strength left to finish the day, for there are eight or nine more hours yet to go, and the heat of the afternoon has not yet reached its desiccating fulness. He grabs the bill of his hat, pulls it from his head and rubs the wet fabric of his shirt across his forehead, grimacing. He is silent now not from the sense of the myriad foolishness of his words, but rather from the desolate emptiness from which they come. There is nothing in him to say.
He will finish his long day and head indoors for dinner. He will doff his boots, wash his hands and face, and pull his chair up to the table. His iced coffee will sit to his right, his place will have been set. Barely a word will have been spoken. He will say grace in the Jacobean manner, because that is the rhythm and the cadence he knows. The mistress of the farm will fill his ears with talk of the day. She has stored this up just for his hearing. He will punctuate her narratives with the nod of a head, a rumbling grunt, a monosyllabic “yep.” He will have said nothing, but somehow she will have been satisfied.
Then comes the final silence of the day as the man lies next his wife in the marital bed. The damp heat barely alleviated by the anemic wind that just rustles the lace curtains. Theirs has already been the kiss bidding farewell till the morning, neither knowing if they will wake again. On his heart the man has much to say. The silence has filled him this day. But now he is weary and does not know how to begin.
So he reaches out a hand underneath the covers and grabs the slender hand of his mate. He gives a squeeze. And soon he is asleep, his heart again ruminating in the silence.