A few days ago a friend asked me to imagine what God is like, and he encouraged me to set aside my usual ideas. Don’t think about God as Father, Son, Spirit. Stay out of the Sistine Chapel. If I alone could describe God, what would God be like?
The other day I was asked two big questions, questions that might defy easy answers, and I found to my surprise that I had my answers at the ready. The first question was, “What is your greatest fear?” And the second question was, “What is your greatest joy?”
She has helped her servant Israel, in remembrance of her mercy.
Twenty years ago this summer, when my mother was dying, my father started organizing all the papers she kept in remembrance of her children, cards and notes and certificates and report cards, letters and school pictures, a vast collection of memorabilia. In the box labeled “Stephen,” I found a card that her mother, my grandmother, had sent her a few days after my birth.
“My grief is this: the right hand of the Most High has lost its power.” —Psalm 77:10
Human beings are so beautiful.
The gentle slope and sudden, jutting angle of a shoulder. The gleam of a smiling brown eye. The sound of laughter and the sound of song, the might of muscle and the warmth of a parent’s lap. The power and the glory and the majesty of a reconciling hug, a hug that says “It’s going to be okay, we are friends again, I am sorry and I love you.” Her thick braid of silver hair, and the delicate stamp of crow’s feet around his eyes. The elusive art of dancing: whenever dance is captured and released inside the body of a human being, the whole earth grows young again.
A couple of weeks ago, Andrew and I took a train from the village of Hogsmeade to King’s Cross station in London, disembarking close to the entrance to Diagon Alley, which is a little shopping area that’s not so easy for most people to find. The train is called the Hogwarts Express, named for a boarding school it serves twice a year.
I find it hard to like homeless people.
I find them disturbing, scary. I am put off by them. Sometimes I even resent them: I like to shop at the grocery store across the street from here, a store filled with warmth and light and food I can afford; but practically every time I go, I have to walk past a homeless person asking for a handout.
I find this frustrating. I wish it weren’t so. I wish the store had the ability to shoo the panhandlers away. But it’s a city sidewalk; they can’t do that. I want to believe that I don’t want them to do that, because, I reason, kind and ethical people don’t want them to do that. Kind and ethical people want to help the panhandlers, somehow. But I know my feelings in that situation aren’t kind and ethical.
I know this about myself.
Some time ago I was visiting a close relative and his family in Minnesota, and I witnessed a little conversation that intrigued me. His daughter, about six years old I believe, turned to him and said this:
“Daddy, I hate you. You’re the parent I hate.”
Naturally, I was riveted. I couldn’t wait to find out what he would say in response to this. And here is what he said:
“I know, honey. I know. And bedtime is still 7:30.”
A little while ago I enjoyed a rare encounter with an elusive creature. Sometimes I wake up around 4:00 a.m., and I can tell I won’t be able to get back to sleep, so I just get up and go for a long, dark, quiet walk around the crown of Queen Anne. This was one of those nights. I had just crossed the large ravine on the northeast side of the hill, and I heard a rustling directly behind me. Then I saw—and in my memory I felt it, too—a large presence soaring around my right side, turning in front of me, and flying over my left shoulder.
A little while ago a friend of mine said something to me that I can’t get out of my mind. It’s one of those things someone says that to them seems obvious and uncontroversial, but it brings me up short. I just can’t shake it. Here’s what he said:
“You don’t take your dirty laundry to church.”
What does he mean by dirty laundry?