“Redeemed humanity is still young; it has hardly come to its full strength. But already there is joy enough in the little finger of a great saint such as yonder lady to waken all the dead things of the universe into life,” says George MacDonald in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. I can’t shake this image of joy months since I put down Lewis’ novel where he imagines what would happen if people could take a bus out of hell to heaven.
Most things I read online and see on TV bathe me in fear, so much so I have had screaming dreams of flying into space and trees. Be afraid of lunch with your friends, of people standing nearby in church singing hymns, people whose race is different than you.
But joy’s call points to the dull winged butterfly, its antennae so delicate there are balls on each end. It points to Neowise, faint as a ghost in the sky until your binoculars shows its star like a bright-eyed mare with a long, streaming tail. It points to the light stroking blades of grass, and the wind billowing through a hay field. And the not so quiet growth of the corn pushing to the sky from a weak plant to hefty stalks, tassels blooming, ready for plant sex. (Did you know each kernel is a genetically separate individual?)
Shake your fist at the fear. Look for the glory that fills the earth.
I’m Katie Andraski and that’s my perspective.
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Imagine having enough joy in our little finger to waken all the dead things. Saint Paul in his epistle to the Romans said that “creation will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” So what happens when the children of God obtain that freedom? The book says all creation will be freed. What will that look like? One can only imagine, but we get glimpses.
Isaiah in his vision, heard the seraphim calling out, “The whole earth is full his glory” (Isa. 6:3). Right here. Right now. We catch glimpses of that just by looking at the world around us. I see it in the tiny flowers blooming alongside the barn, and the toad I caught in Morgen’s stall and walked over to the morning glories by the house, and the swallowtail butterfly that landed in a pile of poop. I see it in a storm building sky. I’ve heard it said that shining, blinding light that the disciples witnessed when Jesus talked to Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration is all around us, we just don’t see it because we are blinded by our flaws and earthiness. When Moses came down the mountain after spending time with God he was bright as the sun. He terrified the people so much they asked him to wear a veil. I imagine brightness like the flash on a camera or lightning.
Once when I was a very little girl I dreamed I saw a bright light outside my window, a glowing orange face like how some videos show the sun, roiling and alive and blinding. Lately I have wondered if I’d come close to a vision of glory, but my fear invited Him to withdraw. There’s a wonderful benediction at the end of Jude: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God our Savior…” (Jude 24). Imagine being kept from stumbling, and being blameless before one so holy some of the best people fell on their faces crying woe is me!
I guess that’s the good news people are talking about, how we, totally estranged from God, can be presented blameless in His presence with great joy. (While I was listening to Jordan Peterson’s series on Genesis, I heard him say that we are all monsters, capable of being a medieval torturer, all of us. And that when we recognize the monster in our nature we can begin to be good. But isn’t that the genius of Christianity? That we are called to repentance, and can turn away from our monster side and turn toward God? Isn’t there genius in being able to confess our sins, not having to hide from those flaws, or pretend we are good? Isn’t the genius that it’s God who turns to us and forgives us? All we have to do is receive that forgiveness? And someday we will be presented before that Great Light blameless, with great joy?)
Sarah Smith’s scene from The Great Divorce has been nagging at me. After meeting many ghosts who have come to heaven and ultimately reject its joys because they won’t receive the gift offered, the narrator encounters Sarah Smith of Golders Green who is followed by children, even though she has never given birth to any of her own. George MacDonald, the narrator’s guide to Heaven, says, “Every young man or boy that met her became her son–even if it was only the boy that brought the meat to her back door. Every girl that met her was her daughter.” The narrator remarks about the animals that are following her and again he is answered, “Every beast and bird that came near her had its place in her love. In her they became themselves. And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flowed over into them.” Ever since I first read this in high school, I’ve wanted to be like Sarah Smith. I want to offer the kind of love to my animals and people. I hope one day to see them again.
This echoes Isaiah 54 where it says, “Sing O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,” says the Lord (Isa. 54: 1. ESV)
There is so much hope in this story and in this verse for me as a woman who had no children. I’ve been reflecting on this in an essay for my “memoir” that I seem compelled to work on, even though I’m not sure anyone would want to read it. I freely chose not to have children because I didn’t have a burning desire to have them. Bruce didn’t seem to want them either and we had no support as a young married couple–that whole “it takes a village business.” I have grieved not having children, even though it was my choice, though on reflection I’m not sure but that this was decided the day I was born because of my own mother’s grief and overwhelm.
Just last week I fell into the pit of loneliness that is the opposite of joy, but it’s a place I know well, a place that feels native to me. Bruce and I are elder orphans, with no close family. My parents and brother are long gone, and Bruce’s brother and parents are gone, not quite so long ago, but still gone. Neither one of us had warm, fuzzy relationships with our close in family, so there were already jagged edges even when they were here. But sometimes the loneliness rises and I ache with it. Christmas is hard enough, but those off holidays like July 4, Labor Day can remind us that we don’t belong to anyone enough to be invited for a cook out, or to invite to ours. Our neighborhood has blunted this because we are part of this community with our across the field neighbor stopping over in his four wheeler to chat. Other across the field neighbors have invited us for holiday dinners. They have done that second commandment–Love your neighbors as yourself and redeemed the quiet holidays, so when we are alone, the grief doesn’t wallop us.
Sometimes God hears those deep cries. He does draw near to the brokenhearted. I was sitting here poking at an essay about being silenced, when Derick said he was coming to Chicago. Years ago, when I was in a very low point in my work as a teacher, a woman on FB asked if I’d been a poet in Arkansas. Well, yes. She was helping Derick Patterson find me. Oh yes. I remember, I said. We chatted by phone. “I never forgot the day we stopped by the White River and you told me and Jesse to listen to the day, to listen for quiet that had no human sounds. I looked all over the country for those places.” He named them.”You were a unique babysitter. I looked up to you like you knew everything.”
We had met when I worked for an Arabian horse farm near Fayetteville, Arkansas when I was studying for my MFA in poetry. Bill Harrison, the fiction writer, told me to apply for a job there. He saved me from spending summers at home. The Arabian horse farm had brought his family to run their barn. They rented from Dash Goff on his Verna Lea Farms. When Derick’s dad rode off Dead Horse mountain on his gray quarter horse stallion, I was smitten. I met his family and babysat their two sons while they went out partying. A sort of light, or glory fell on the whole family. I was smitten by all of them and stepped into their lives for a time.
At any rate Derick messaged me saying he was coming to Chicago, on I 80. Well maybe we could meet at a truck stop in Morris or LaSalle Peru. Then he said he was coming to Hoffman Estates. I told him he should come up 39 to avoid Chicago, rush hour traffic and any protests. He texted his dispatcher’s directions which took him close to where we live. He got permission to stop here and I called our neighbor to ask if Derick could park his tractor trailer at his farm. That was fine. (There is that love your neighbors as yourself thing again when neighbors let your friend park his tractor trailer in their yard on short notice.) I had two hours to get ready. Bruce went to the store to get dinner and I decluttered the kitchen table and put on a clean table cloth, which takes longer than you’d think because we drop our stuff on the kitchen table. I was grateful I’d done a deeper than normal cleaning that weekend, including the upstairs and guest bedroom.
Gosh it was good to see Derick. He pulled up in a big rig pulling a flatbed that was a long drink of water. He said he was delivering a load of Sakrete. Forget about Covid. I gave him a big hug, forty years in coming. Derick was still the tow headed boy I knew, only grown up, a powerful man. We swapped memories like the time I came to visit after they bought their log cabin and we explored the woods and ran across a pasture under stars so bright they burned our eyes. He said the years his family lived in Arkansas were good ones. Recently He went back to visit Dash Goff’s place with his wife and said it’s now a golf course. “The broodmare barn is the golf shack and Dash’s house is the clubhouse. It’s been so long and things have changed so much”, he said, “I didn’t think I could find the log home.” He talked about how he rodeoed all over the west, doing team roping and earned multiple buckles. He told stories of pack trips in the Rockies and how he figured out how to earn extra money. We caught up on his family. I was impressed that his uncle had become his good friend and that his uncle stayed married to the young girl who had a crush on him back in the day. Derick learned to read as an adult and read the Bible cover to cover. He turned to Jesus. (I remember praying for them to know the Lord back in those days.)
Just before we took him to his semi, Derick asked if we smelled that sweet smell. No. Then I smelled it. Like honey. Or Lederbalsam that I put on my tack to soften and preserve it. I’d never smelled it before but I think it’s the corn which is tasseled out and growing ears. The sweet smell of life in the making.
What I’m saying is that sometimes we see how our prayers get answered. People do come to know the Lord. And our loneliness is eased when God hears us and sends us people who were sort of our children like Sarah Smith’s children. The great reunion that we look for at the end of time, well, sometimes that happens here, and now, in ways more surprising and wonderful than we could dream up ourselves. “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…” (Eph 3:20.)