from the first few pages of chapter four of Light When It Comes
When my oldest son was sixteen we drove to Spokane to pick up an old car my dad was giving him, a 69 Mercury Bobcat, rusted along the doors.
The next morning John got into the driver’s seat, backed out, grinning, and disappeared down the street on his long way home, 400 miles, by himself, through the desert and the mountains.
All I could do was stand there and watch him go.
“Another word for father,” says Li-Young Li, is “worry.”
When I think of the image of God the Father, God the Father of Us All, I think of his sadness. I think of him standing in the driveway, watching his son disappear.
Annie is a first grader in a town not far from where I live. She was abused by her father, and her mother was abused, too, and finally, before the father left them both, in his anger and his meanness, he burned their house to the ground.
Annie’s mother is a screamer. She likes to scream at Annie and she likes to come to school and scream at the teachers, and now she’s living with a new boyfriend, which means that Annie is living with a new man, too.
And one day in class Annie drew a cross. She spent some time on it. The wood of the cross is brown and Jesus, hanging on it, is deep red. And at the bottom, in Annie’s awkward printing and jumbled spelling, there’s this:
I love God because he died for my sins. He died on the cross. He loves me. He had angels. He is the Dad of the world. His name was Jesus but we call him God.
I don’t know how Annie learned about Jesus, what church she might have gone to, but these six brief sentences are profound in ways she can’t understand—or that maybe, come to think of it, she can.
God is dead.
The CEO in the Sky is dead. The Great Policeman is dead. The Unwavering Judge is dead. The God we love because he gives us what we want. The God we resent because he doesn’t. He has given himself away. He has surrendered his power and he has surrendered his potency and so we can’t blame him anymore, for hunger and poverty and war, for the injustice and suffering in the world. He has a body, an ordinary, fragile body, and now that body has been tortured and beaten and hung up before us.
An old man is dying in a dark, fetid room. His daughter is with him, in her kindness, praying
and holding his hand, though he was a harsh and bitter man all his life and abused her and abused his wife. He had been in combat in a war and maybe that was it, but now he is dying in a dark, fetid room and he is rigid in his narrow, little bed, shaking, hands clenched, and his daughter is with him.
When I come to read the Psalms to him he seems to recognize the rhythm of the words and how one line is parallel to the next and this seems to soothe him for a while. He doesn’t shake as much. His eyes stop darting back and forth beneath the stony lids.
And later, after I leave, he opens his eyes. He seems to focus for a moment. He seems to look through the darkness at his daughter, and he says two words to her, in a faint, croaking voice: You bitch.
Who knows what this man was thinking or what he was seeing. Maybe he wasn’t talking to his daughter, maybe he was talking to Death, but this is what he says, you bitch, and this is what his daughter does.
She rises from that chair, and she leans over that bed, and she whispers in her father’s ear:
Daddy, I love you. And that night, he died.
Love is a great emptying out and losing. Love is a rising from a chair. It is a leaning
over a bed. It is a whisper in a room and a word in a room.
The last thing this man ever said was vulgar and angry and mean. But this wasn’t the last thing he ever heard.
Love not only never fails. It always fails. Love is not only patient and kind. It is despised. Love is seen as weak. Love is seen as unmanly. Love puts down its gloves and gets hit in the face. Love never makes a million dollars and never goes viral and never wins the prize. Love has no answers. It doesn’t possess the truth but is possessed by the truth. Love is laughed at. Love is made fun of. Love is slapped around and spat on. Love leads us into the desert. Love leads us into loneliness and sorrow.
Jesus died on a cross and he had angels and he loves us. He is the Dad of the World, the father of all of us forsaken by our fathers and forsaken by our mothers and no one is finally abandoned, no one is finally unloved and unregarded but everyone is taken up and held in the arms of this cross and in the arms of this man.