The Taser's Edge

In Which I Present Lots of Random Quotes from Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead in a Ploy to Get You to Read It

This morning I have been trying to think about heaven, but without much success. I don’t know why I should expect to have any idea of heaven. I could never have imagined this world if I hadn’t spent almost eight decades walking around in it. People talk about how wonderful the world seems to children, and that’s true enough. But children think they will grow into it and understand it, and I know very well that I will not, and would not if I had a dozen lives. That’s clearer to me every day. Each morning I’m like Adam waking up in Eden, amazed at the cleverness of my hands and at the brilliance pouring into my mind through my eyes–old hands, old eyes, old mind, a very diminished Adam altogether, and still it is just remarkable. What of me will I still have? Well, this old body has been a pretty good companion. Like Balaam’s ass, it’s seen the angel I haven’t seen yet, and it’s lying down in the path. (p. 67)

The article is called “God and the American People,” and it says 95 percent of us say we believe in God. But our religion doesn’t meet the writer’s standards, not at all. To his mind, all those people in all those churches are the scribes and the Pharisees. He seems to me to bit of a scribe himself, scorning and rebuking the way he does. How do you tell a scribe from a prophet, which is what he clearly takes himself to be? The prophets love the people they chastise, a thing this writer does not appear to me to do. (p. 142)

Boughton says he has more ideas about heaven every day. He said, “Mainly I just think about the splendors of the world and multiply by two. I’d multiply by ten or twelve if I had the energy. But two is more than sufficient for my purposes.” So he’s just sitting there multiplying the feel of the wind by two, multiplying the smell of the grass by two. (p. 147)

No sleep this night. My heart is greatly disquieted. It is a strange thing to feel illness and grief in the same organ. There is not telling one from the other. My custom has always been to ponder grief; that is, to follow it through ventricle and aorta to find out its lurking places. That old weight in the chest, telling me there is something I must dwell on, because I know more than I know and must learn it from myself–that same good weight worries me these days.

But the fact is, I have never found another way to be as honest with myself as I can be by consulting with these miseries of mine, these accusers and rebukers, God bless them all. So long as they do not kill me outright. I do hope to die with a quiet heart. I know that may not be realistic. (p. 179)

Love is holy because it is like grace–the worthiness of its object is never really what matters. (p. 209)

And old Boughton, if he could stand up out of his chair, out of his decrepitude and crankiness and sorrow and limitation, would abandon all those handsome children of his, mild and confident as they are, and follow after that one son whom he has never known, whom he has favored as one does a wound, and he would protect him as a father cannot, defend him with a strength he does not have, sustain him with a bounty beyond any resource he could ever dream of having. If Boughton could be himself, he would utterly pardon every transgression, past, present, and to come, whether or not it was a transgression in fact or his to pardon. He would be that extravagant. That is a thing I would love to see. (p. 238)

There are a thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient. (p. 243)

Seeking Entrance to the Mysteries

I just finished writing my weekly reflection for this week on this patient who (I realized while writing this sentence) I will never forget.  Life, death, decay, in a visible war in his flesh.  Death is winning.  For now.  What does it mean that his body will be redeemed?  Death will be reversed and he will be made new as he never was before.  Maybe that’s something his wife and I could talk about today.

I really want to do a verbatim on whatever we talk about today.  I wish I had done a series of verbatim to record this whole thing.  I will never be the same after this.  I just realized that too.  I need to say it to somebody.  Maybe more than one body.

I just said it to K, who’s sitting here in the office beside me, writing her own overly long reflection.  I told her about this ministry of the funeral procession that I’m experiencing and offering, and she told me this quote from the presentation she went to by Tom Long, in which he focused on the procession: “We carry the dead to the edge of Mystery.”  We are journeying with the dead as far as we can go (and, I think, perhaps a step or four further).  I am journeying with this patient as Death takes him where he does not want to go.  And I am journeying with the man’s wife.  Death is not taking us, but we are playing follow-the-leader. Death takes this man, the woman follows her husband—screaming, beating Death on his arms, faceless face, and back, trying to break Death’s unbreakable grip on her lover—and I follow after, walking beside the woman.

Or perhaps the vision is of the man in his sealed coffin.  His wife tries to break it open, pleading that he’s alive in there.  “He’s alive, don’t you see?”  And the pallbearers, perhaps wearing labcoats, perhaps wearing the nametags of the doctors, of the nurses, are walking relentlessly forward, are marching.  They may slow, and she cries out, “They’re bringing him home!”  She looks at me: “They’re bringing him home!”  She looks at the pallbearers: “He’s coming home!”

She looks at me and at my face, which says (as much as  I try to hide it) that I don’t believe her.  I’m involved in this too.  I’m taking this man to the grave too.  It doesn’t matter that I say we’ll put the body in the grave, and her husband will drop through fire and come out whole, whole in a way he’s never known. That his laughter and joy will overcome with tears this taciturn husband she knew, slow to emote but with a glowing hot heart.  On that day he will dance and sing.  He will leap to tap heels together, but leap over Saturn before coming down again.  He will laugh so deeply in the joy of his new wholeness that it will shake the stars, and they will fall to his feet, and he will eat them, saying they taste better than ice cream and fresh snow, this one like strawberry and this one like banana (which surprises him, as he never has liked banana before).

What will he see as he looks back to his wife, who is mourning, who is caring for their shattered children?  What will he say about it to the God he will know face to face?  These are the mysteries of joy and terror.