From the opening pages of the first chapter of Light When It Comes (Eerdmans 2016)
I am called to bless a bathroom.
A young poet has committed suicide there. Her boyfriend found her and tried to revive her. He was soaked with blood when the EMTs arrived, and then the police, and though he’s moved out now, and the biological hazard team has scrubbed the blood away, the landlord and the boyfriend and the boyfriend’s father want some kind of further cleansing, maybe a kind of magic. But who am I to say?
So I drive to the complex, a warren of condominiums, chalky and cheap, and I wander around until I find theirs, and I knock on the door and introduce myself to the parents, fifties, disheveled, in dirty sweatshirts and jeans, and they take me down the hall, past boxes and piles of clothes.
The apartment is new, the bathroom small and bright.
I squeeze in by the toilet, stand against the wall, facing the mirror, and say the prayers for the dead and the blessing for a house, my voice echoing, and with a small, plastic bottle begin to sprinkle the room with holy water. The vanity. The mirror. The clean, fiberglass tub. Perpetual light shine upon her, oh Lord. Amen.
The boyfriend couldn’t bear to come. His mother and father stand in the doorway, bowing
And as I wave the bottle and say the words, the cap flies off, it pops, bouncing into the bottom of the tub, and I have to lean over to get it, picking it up off the slick, shiny surface of the fiberglass. May she rest in peace, I say, embarrassed now, but alert, too. Aware. The words
as they echo sound good to me in that hollow place, and proper, and true. May the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace.
Then I turn, trace the cross in the air, and give the final blessing–in my left hand the cap, about the size of a dime, with a hole in the middle. Like the prize in a box of crackerjacks. A whistle, or a top.
The old woman in ICU wants to rail against the Church.
Patriarchy, she says, hierarchy, and I sit and listen.
“But you’re dying,” I say. “Why are we talking about this? Why does any of this matter?”
And the sun slants through the dusty window. My Roman collar chafes. On the monitor, the peaks and valleys of her failing heart.
“May I give you communion?” I ask her. And she says, “would that mean I’d have to come back to the Church?”
“No,” I say. “No. It will be our little secret.”
Are these moments of darkness or moments of light?
All I have done is come into a room, a bathroom, a hospital room, and I have been awkward and clumsy, and there’s been something odd about the moment, and random, and embarrassing, and yet I also have this sense of privilege, of being accorded some high honor.
Something solemn is going on.
God doesn’t come to us in a wind, and he doesn’t come to us in an earthquake, and he doesn’t come to us in a fire. He comes to us in a still, small voice, as he comes to Elijah in the first book of Kings, and all we have to do is listen.
What’s miraculous isn’t the walking on water but the water itself, is the lake, the Sea of Galilee, thirteen miles long and eight miles wide, with the sun rising over it in the mornings, and every lake, Yellowstone Lake and Lake Pend Oreille and even Cronemiller Lake, the pond in the woods by our house in Oregon, because God is everywhere, lovely in 10,000 places. The miracle is life itself, is the ordinary.
The seed really falls into the earth, and the fields are really smooth and bare, and then the rain comes and the sun, and the leaf and the grape, and then the crushing and the wait, the long wait for whatever it is enzymes do.
Water is always becoming wine.
My wife Barb and I were driving through the fields and hills, and I looked out at the trees and the new-cut hay, at the farms as we passed them, and for a while I felt an unusual peace, a sense of happiness and blessedness. Deeper than usual. Quiet but intense. I can’t put it into words. I didn’t even tell Barb about it. We talked about ordinary things. We listened to music. But for a while, an hour or more, I had this quiet sense of joy, of belonging, as if some kind of energy was flowing into me from somewhere else.
But not as if. An energy was flowing through me.
Thoughts like this are not our thoughts, they are the still, small voice, they are Jesus coming towards us, on the water. Sure, we’ll jump out of the boat and sink, again and again. We are all like Peter. These moments pass and we doubt them and forget them. We’re embarrassed to talk about them. That’s OK. Jesus reaches down and pulls us out, again and again.
And besides, the water is fine. Even in our drowning, the Lord is with us. The water is clear and sweet and the light is shining through it.