Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Man in the Car

The Man in the Car

I drove my brother Peter to the grocery store in a town very far from here. He wanted to buy something but I cannot remember what it was that he wanted to buy. I remember that it was a very hot summer day. I waited in the car while Peter went inside the store. There was a man sitting in a car parked next to mine and he had the door open and was reading a Bible. I could see colored ribbons in the binding of the book and tabs that marked different books and chapters of his Bible. It was a worn, well read looking book. The man was old and did not seem to mind the heat as he read. He did seem to notice me as he was very absorbed in whatever it was he was reading. And I wondered what chapter, what verse he was reading. I must have been there about fifteen or so minutes and then Peter came back to the car with the bag of goods that he bought and we headed off back home. The man was still reading as I pulled out of the parking space.

Religious words, the kind that the man was reading that day, have a primacy in all religious traditions. As varied as they are, as contradictory as they are, as resistant to a commonly share interpretation as they are and will always be, we bow our heads and read them, ponder them, trying to discern and remember what it is that God is telling us about this world. That old man left one world and entered another as he was sitting there reading his Bible. He did not notice me, or the heat of the day, or the other cars and people who passed that day, entering and leaving the store. His eyes moved from word to word. But eventually, there came a time when he would close the book, close his car door, start his engine and drive out of the parking lot and head back home, hopefully driving with care all the way.

Recently, a guest here at our retreat house asked me what I write about and I told her “simple things.” I am not a theologian or a spiritual writer of any depth, or at least I do not feel that way. I look about me at things that I see, things that move me and make me think, and I like to write about them. But now, thinking about what was asked me, I can share something with you that occurred to me since she asked.

I guess I have thought about what she asked me, about what it is that I write about.

We all move in and out of different worlds every day of our lives. We drive through them, may park for a while and look about us, and then move on. Occasionally, we may rest for a while and read some sacred words so as to better place us and give some sense to where we are parked. But then we must close the book and move back into the world – the very world we were just reading about. It is a world that requires driving with care, choosing carefully the ways we move, lest we get lost or have a collision. In my writing, or at least a lot of it, I play off that sense of moving through the world with not thinking too much about it and how that is where life unfolds, the kind of life that we try to hold close with sacred words and our eyes that scan a page and hearts that ponder religious meaning.. So much happens to each of us in life on our respective roads. We do not often have time to rest, to read, and to try and figure out where we have come from and where we are going.

We have to move on, heading home. To my way of thinking, the best religious writing helps us see that Providence, the loving care of God, has much to do with moving the world along as we travel its roads and mysteries. The love of God is a real, loving, tangible thing. It is a living thing. That old man may have thought, as he closed his Bible, that he was driving onto a yet to be redeemed highway, a road that his reading might better map. I hope he made the connection between the good that he read and the good of the miles, the heat of the day, and a man he may have noticed watching him, and now writing about him, admiring his need to find something of God in his Bible and on his odometer. Simple things, things that move and live in and through mystery, with colored ribbons, traffic lights and turn signals. Things of God and an old man and a summer’s day.