|I WAKE and feel the fell of dark, not day.|
|What hours, O what black hoürs we have spent|
|This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went!|
|And more must, in yet longer light’s delay.|
|With witness I speak this. But where I say||5|
|Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament|
|Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent|
|To dearest him that lives alas! away.|
|I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree|
|Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;||10|
|Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.|
|Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see|
|The lost are like this, and their scourge to be|
|As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse.|
-Gerard Manley Hopkins
We got back from ten days of vacation to find weeds thriving in our yard. Amazonian. We could barely see the house when we pulled up, and the lawn is thorns and thistles. By the sweat of my face, I’ll get to them eventually. But the thing that worries me more is the jungle in my soul. When Adam and his new bride walked out of that paradise into a weed-ridden world, they walked also into sort of internal hell that must have shocked and scared them. The natural man: carnal, sensual, devilish, wretched. I’m tired of being horrid. Here’s the thing. I usually write these joyful, affirmative little posts. But sometimes I feel wretched. Straight wretched. Makes-me-sick-to-my-stomach-and-want-to-retch wretched. The kind of wretched I think Paul and Nephi were talking about. Nephi says it well: “Notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am!” Nephi possesses a keen perception of the holy, the beautiful, the lovely, and the good. But perhaps because of that he more fully senses the contrast between the exquisite things of God and the dirt in his soul. I get a little impatient when people in my Sunday school classes want to dismiss Nephi’s lament as oversensitivity to minor sinfulness. With all respect, I think he was straight wretched sometimes. A real devil. And I think the hellishness of his own heart saddened him.
Paul knew it, too. “What I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that I do. . . . For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. . . . O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
A couple of Sundays ago, my brother-in-law spoke in church about Jesus and grace. After church we sat around a table at my wife’s parents’ house and spoke of sacred things. My heart burned. It was a day of holiness. My two-year-old was awake later than he should have been. I knew I should have put him in bed earlier. By the time I got around to it, he was past ballistic. He was hysterical with a sort of exhausted psychosis. I have seen that manic look in his eyes before, have had that bedtime wrestle, and I decided to take him for a drive. As I hoped, he fell asleep in his carseat within a couple of blocks of the house. When we pulled up back at my in-laws’, my other children came bouncing out of the house to greet us. They woke him up. He started screaming again. I tried to put him in bed, but to no avail. I put him back in the car and drove for a while. He screamed maniacally the whole time. I yelled at him to be quiet and go to sleep. I fully expected that would help. I was not rational. I felt my soul slipping away from me, offended. We got to a high school parking lot, and I stopped the car. I got him out and he hugged me tight and kissed me. I felt like dirt. Compassion filled me. I held him close and told him I love him. Then I asked if he wanted to go back to grandma’s house. He started screaming again. I didn’t know what to do. I asked him if he wanted to stay there in the dark parking lot or go back with me to grandma’s. He screamed that he wanted to stay there with me. I knew I did not want to do what I was about to do. But I was tired.
You need to know something about this two-year-old. I love him like I love the sun. He is my third child and so good-natured that I am convinced God sent me an ancient, good soul to uplift me. He has the smile of an elf and speaks in full sentences just because he can. When we were camping a couple of weeks ago, I stood up on a little tree stump. Oliver came and pushed against my foot. I don’t know what he was trying to do, but he said in his small voice, “My dad is so strong.” Later, he fell and got scraped up. I got a wet wipe to wash away the dust. While I wiped his arm, he snuggled his head into me and said, “You’re a good daddy.” Another night, when I was tucking him in with more patience and more love, he said to me, “I want you to thing me thome thongs an den thing me a thory.” “What do you want the story to be about?” I asked. “A dragon,” he said, “dat’s creepy. An a angel.” Later he wanted a story about Jesus, a hippopotamus, a bird and a gingerbread man. It was a good one, I tell you. Sing me a story. That’s all he really wanted that night, a song and some love.
Instead, I roughly set him down in the high school parking lot and got in the car. I started the car and began to drive away. Something inside of me died when I looked back to see him running after the car in his white nightshirt. He looked like a ghost. He was sobbing. I stopped the car and picked him up. I put him in his carseat and drove home. I felt wretched. Unholy. Ungodly.
The next morning he loved me as if I had not betrayed my sacred responsibility to him as his father. He climbed into my bed to snuggle.
Light is my favorite cereal.
I thrive on the luminous, the iridescent.
This day, as I woke between the small child tucked into me
and the soft comfort of my best friend,
I drank light.
No summer sunset ever tasted so sweet.
And here’s the point: amid a world of wretchedness, I believe in grace. In some apocalyptic way, I think God will insert Himself into the flow of history and bring about a radical change, an abrupt rupture in the order of things. “I saw a new heaven and a new earth.” “Behold, I make all things new.” “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, not come to mind. But be ye glad and rejoice in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.” God will one day climb into my bed and snuggle me, despite all the wretchedness of my soul. And my ashes will turn to beauty. My darkness will give way to His light.
The other day I asked Lydia, “What are you made of? Honey and light?” She smiled and said, “I’m made of everything. Except Satan and cigarettes and things like that.” Except with a lovely lisp that accentuated the alliteration: “Ekthept Thatan and thigaretth and thingth like that.”
Sometimes I feel like I’m all Satan and cigarettes. But I wait earnestly with Paul who speaks of a glory that shall be revealed in us: “For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.” Make me holy. Come, Lord Jesus, come. We are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” In this I desperately hope.
(The painting is "Hole" by Brian Kershisnik)