"That night, in a properly-made bunk, I reached out to touch the wooden wall beside me. It looked a little like home and there was a faint scent of pine." (Sylvester Jacobs, in Born Black)
Sad, really, that you can no longer purchase the long-out-of-print Born Black. Published in 1977, it is the brief biography (thus far) of an Oklahoma born black man, Sylvester Jacobs. Jacobs' story races from growing up in a racially divided small town, to Moody Bible Institute and its unwritten rule against interracial dating, to missions in Europe, and finally, to a chalet in Huemoz, Switzerland, where he was introduced to Francis and Edith Schaeffer and the ministry of L'Abri. There the pain of racism melted along with his anger, his faith grew, he discovered his vocation of photography, and this very black American met and married a very white English woman.
Jacobs is just one of the many people whose lives were touched by the ministry of Francis and Edith Scaheffer. The chapter title says it all: "They Gave Me Back My Life." More about Jacobs later. But the phrase I set forth above, as simple as it seems, is one that resonated with me. Jacobs is alone on his bunk in a place where he doesn't know anyone, a place of uncertainty where he doesn't fully understand the conversations about theology and philosophy and art. He is a long way from Oklahoma, a long way from home. What does he do? He reaches out to touch something real, something beyond the invisible phantoms of fear, doubt, and anxiety. Touching that bedroom wall, he sensed home; he left the storm and found an anchor. He sensed something solid.
I often do that. I'm shaken by something and I reach out and touch something solid. A tree will work. The wall, a bedpost, a valued book. I remind myself that not everything changes, that some things can be depended upon. In a world of ceaseless activity and increasing velocity and shallowness, I hold on. And in the best of such times, I see through the thing I touch to the changeless God behind it all, the One the Psalmist says is the Rock of our salvation. Solid and sure. I say to myself, "Steady, now."