Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;
I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard. I want
to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.
Mary Oliver, from “Starlings in Winter”
It’s a summer of contrasts.
Last night there was a suicide bombing, again in Germany, in a town to which I’ve traveled often for track meets. And another shooting in Florida. Three days ago, a young shooter attacked several other teenagers at a shopping mall in Munich. Before that was a coup. Before that there were policemen and black men, killed and killing. Before that were more guns, more bombs. Violence and injustice, innocent lives lost everywhere. The speaker at church on Sunday scrolled backwards through this litany of terrors–just in July–events in America and around the world that remind me of a line in Romeo and Juliet: “For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.” Except this isn’t Tybalt killing Mercutio, or Gatsby’s great, heat- and rage-fueled car crash. It’s real violence, not literary, and it won’t pass with the hot days of summer.
Meanwhile, we’re a town so quiet that we can hear horseshoes clattering or cats fighting on the street four floors down, and accordion music floats lazily through our window in the evenings. We spend most days watching a person grow. (Slower than grass, but so much more entertaining!) We watch her standing, balancing on her toes then heels then toes again. We hear her trying to talk, telling us in dozens of syllables all of her thoughts and feelings. We give her watermelon and peaches, delighted to see them disappear into her toothless smile. We take her to the pool and learn she’s afraid of cold water (But who isn’t?), then exult when she consents to sit down and splash for ten merry minutes in the shallowest part of the wading pool. These are my days, both dark and bright.
And a sentence keeps running through my mind, one that I’ve loved for a long time. And all shall be well. Part of Revelations of Divine Love, by medieval mystic Julian of Norwich, these words have run like a line of music through the last decade or so of my life, a promise of God’s power and goodness that has carried me through more than a few times of upheaval. Still, I confess it’s only today that I remembered to be a dutiful English teacher and look up the context of the quote (beyond the two lines around it, borrowed by T.S. Eliot in “Little Gidding”).
I discovered that the lines were Christ’s response to her question–why was sin necessary? As God replied to Job, Julian received a reply, but not an answer:
“But Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.'”
Sin was necessary, but all will be well anyway. God will make all things well.
Psalm 23 tells the same story:
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me…
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
I feel the tension between the beauty of my daily life and the pain that surrounds me, but this is nothing new if I’ve been paying attention. Life in Christ is a tension between contrasts. Light in darkness. Beauty in brokenness. Sin all around, but sin conquered at last. Goodness and lovingkindness following me–not puddles or moments of it, here and there–even through the shadowy valleys of these dark days.
Thank you God for the beauty, for the all that shall be well. Oh God, walk with us through these valleys.