There's a haunting quote by writer Flannery O'Connor featured on the notes for Kate Campbell's 2006 gospel album, For the Living of These Days: "Go warn the children of God of the terrible speed of mercy." I'm rolling that sentence over in mind tonight as I drove east and then north from Columbia, South Carolina through palmetto forests, over the Congaree and Great Pee Dee Rivers, by deeply southern towns. I'm aware of the strange environment created by the interstate highway with its interchanges, how the folk of sleepy southern towns brush against New Yorkers and Latin-Americans moving south and north on the freeway, exiting for gas and food, barely noticing the very different people and very different voices behind the counters of the fast food restaurants.
I drive into one town just to escape the homogeneity of the interchange, and I realize I'm in another world, really. The very air feels different, the people move slower, walk streets at leisure. Commercial strips are faded and worn, and yet I can identify the old town center of this place, what existed before the interstate came and skewed the nature of the community. I know it brought drugs and money and corruption. Seeing three teenage boys cross the street, I wonder about their lives, about the living of their days, about what they hope for and live for.
Back on the highway, I'm listening to Kate's album made in Muscle Shoals, Alabama with Spooner Oldham. It's fitting music for driving, reminding me of growing up in my small country church, and it helps me rid myself of the superior attitude I had when I drove through that small town, the wonder that people would or could live in a place like that and be happy.
She sings an old hymn:
For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of our mind
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
Like the wideness of the sea.
Full atonement. Christ has made a way for me, and for the people in this small town, to boldly come before him, clean.
It's terrible what He had to do. But because of it, we live.