"It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on the poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance -- for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light. . . . But the Lord is more constant and extravagant. . . . Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don't have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see." (Rev. Ames, in Gilead).
When there's a crystal blue sky, and gentle whisper of a breeze, and birdsong, it's easy to see what he means by "radiance." Surely this is what Creation was meant to be, like an English garden. It's easy to forget for a moment the storms that will come, or drought, or flood, all of which I have seen, easy to forget the almost fatal undercurrent of sin that courses through the natural world, making it a "poor gray ember." The world is running down; entropy has set in.
The point came home to me not long ago on a visit to a friend's suburban home in a distant city, a place where I had not been for seven or eight years. When I visited last it was new. This time I saw the marks on the walls of the staircase, the peeling paint, the aging carpet, the cracks in the driveway, and I realized that it was "sinking back into itself," running down, time ticking along.
And yet still it shines if you have willingness to see. The wrens and bluebirds are building nests and laying eggs. New grass is growing. The trees bloom. The house gets a fresh coat of paint and new carpet. All we need is a "little willingness to see." The Lord of Creation is constant and curse-defying.
"There are two occasions when the sacred beauty of Creation becomes dazzlingly apparent, and they occur together. One is when we feel our mortal insufficiency to the world, and the other is when we feel the world's mortal insufficiency to us. Augustine says the Lord loves each of us as an only child, and that has to be true. 'He will wipe every tear from all faces.' It takes nothing from the loveliness of the verse to say that is exactly what will be required." (Rev. Ames, in Gilead).
I guess the good Reverend means that sometimes we're just not up to all the beauty in the world, that we can't quite take it in, can't quite hold it all. And then, on the other hand, the world can't quite hold us, it being but a shadow of the Real World to come. Martin Luther said something to the effect that if we really knew what made up a blade of grass we would die of wonder. And yet, even that is but a shadow.
I'm glad Augustine said that, because I need to remember that despite all the business God has in and out of this world, I am his son, and I might as well be his only son for all the love he has for me. So whether I can't hold the world in my gaze or the world hold me, it doesn't matter. There's a lightness in my being. God holds me tight.
"I love the prairie! So often I have seen the dawn come and the light flood over the land and everything turn radiant at once, that word 'good' so profoundly affirmed in my soul that I am amazed I should be allowed to witness such a thing. There may have been a more wonderful first moment 'when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy,' but for all I know to the contrary, they still do sing and shout, and they certainly might well." (Rev. Ames, in Gilead).
I love these hills and pines, maples, and oaks, the azaleas and rich green of grass, the lakes and streams and red clay. I guess wherever you live God shows you the beauty of that place if you have eyes to see.
John Ames had a habit of rising early and walking the streets to his small and shabby church, to pray and watch the sun rise over the prairie. I can understand why. Seeing that sun rise every day, and the light spilling over his town gave him hope, hope enough to endure what he called his "dark years," year after year of loneliness and lack, and yet year after year of persevering faith. Sometimes when I'm up before light, and walking, I entertain for a moment all kinds of shadowy fears, and occasionally it feels as if the great weight of trouble that weighs on the world rests on me. And then I see that elderly man, stooping to retrieve his newspaper from the driveway, rise up, nod, and say "Good Morning," and the sun peeks out about then and something bright breaks in my soul and I know that, as John Ames says, "hope deferred is still hope," and I walk on.
"I'll pray, and then I'll sleep. (Rev. Ames, in Gilead).
Those were the last lines written by Reverend John Ames, and I'll miss him. Reading Gilead is like reading a pastoral letter, instructive at times, honest, personal, and graciously wise. Like all good characters, you never want to let them go. But John Ames has to go just like they all do. Yet his words live on.
Good night, John Ames. I'll pray, and then I'll sleep.