Last fall, Bruce and I drove down North Avenue, past Maywood Park to a church where Kenneth Woodward, former religion editor at Newsweek and Martin Marty, Lutheran scholar, were talking about the Reformation. Woodward had just published Getting Religion a well researched memoir about American religion in the last half of the twentieth century. Martin Marty had published October 31, 1517 a meditation on Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. Both men had offered kindness that saved my faith, and I wanted to thank them.
Since it was my job to promote Crossway Books, I made an appointment to see Martin Marty at his home. He offered tea and showed me the drawings that would be part of his book A Cry of Absence. He said, “There is a winter sort of spirituality that was just as real as the bubbly, joyous kind”–words that helped me settle into the darkness and cold of that season.
Kenneth Woodward and I became friends in the year it took for him to run some stories about the authors I was representing. The warmth in his voice when I called to pester him to write the story, and the advice he gave when I complained about my work, saved my faith.
I looked out the window and saw the forest preserve I visited with M, a homeless man that I “dated” and “loaned” money to. He pointed along the path through the trees. “I saw a man killed there.” I wondered was he the killer? But we walked out of there. Soon after, I called his brother who advised it might be best to ease out of the relationship. My best friend sent her friends who told him to stay away from me. I have other stories I could tell about dangerous situations, where I wasn’t harmed, like my car losing control in the middle of rush hour traffic, in front of Woodfield, the car only suffering a dented fender, or the time I was the only woman in a car full of men, drunk on whiskey headed out to feed livestock in a remote area.
I’ve been thinking a lot about angels lately and how they stepped in when I stepped into these dangerous situations. I was in extreme pain from my parents dying, and living in a strange city, and feeling abandoned. Not only was I protected, but good people were kind, offering the right word at the right time, that helped me stay on the path when deep darkness yawned near my feet.
At Christmas, the angels announced the coming of a baby who would put skin and bones on God, proclaiming peace. They warned the baby’s parents about coming danger. I credit angels for keeping me safe and God’s people for putting flesh and bones on Jesus, so that I could be comforted. They come even now and announce good news, even though we might not know it’s them.
This was first published in Making Most of the Time: Devotions for Advent, Christmas and the Feast of Epiphany.
If you’d like to read more of this story, you might want to read my novel The River Caught Sunlight. The character Jim Sanders is based on Kenneth Woodward, who was gracious with regards to how I portrayed him.
Since this event was centered around the Reformation, I’d also like to recommend the wonderful read Katharina and Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk. If you’re curious about what married life was like for a man who changed the world, then this book is for you. It’s also a fascinating description of people’s ordinary lives in the middle ages.