The basic paradigm by which I’ve always seen the Christian life is a series of ideas that arise from the Heidelberg Catechism, the handbook of doctrine with which I was raised. Those steps march along this-a-way: “sin, salvation, service.”
The story line begins with sin—our knowledge of it, as it exists within us. Calvin starts even a bit earlier, with the heavens, with our sense of the omnipotence or what's eternal in this world. We see God’s marvelous work in the heavens and the earth around us, and we just know that somewhere, someone is bigger, lots bigger than we are. There begins our knowledge of human limits, our knowledge, finally, of human failing.
A conviction of our finiteness draws us to God. In the face of God we know our limitations and seek God’s saving work. Sin precedes salvation, or so the story goes, through the second chapter.
When we know he loves us, our hearts fill, our souls rejoice; we celebrate salvation in gratitude and service, doing what we can, his agents of love in the world he loves so greatly.
"Sin, salvation, service"—that’s the old story line.
Mother Theresa’s story line is colored by her experiences in "the holes of the poor" in
Our redemption, she says, begins in repulsion—human suffering prompts us initially to
look away. But we know we really can’t or
shouldn’t or won’t, so we look misery in its own starving face; and when we
do, we move from repulsion to compassion—away from rejection and toward loving
But there's more, what she called “bewonderment,” which is wonder seasoned by our admiration. Awe, really. Our compassion--our love for others--leads us finally to become awed by God's love--to sheer, human "bewonderment."
“Bewonderment” is one of those strange words no one uses but everyone understands. And, like reverence, it's hard to come by in a culture where our supposed needs are never more than a price tag away. Bewonderment is awe in the presence of the eternal God.
Met this guy last Sunday along the Missouri River, the man in the photo. He was looking for his stray cattle. He started up a conversation, kept it going, and ended it. He talked and talked and talked. He's mad as hell, and has been so, it seems, ever since the Corp of Engineers put in that dam and paid him a dime-and-nickel for all that good land that used to be right there full of corn and beans and where today there's nothing but sentiment and weeds and a few trickling streams, you know, because the government doesn't care about weeds either because they can't take care of anything, by golly, because they're all crooks and out to line their own pockets. Why they'd screw up an ice cream sundae.
And more of that for maybe 20 minutes, a monologue from an angry man who never told us his name, just belly-ached.
Some days, if I don't look up, I think I could become him, feeling the squeeze of walking more slowly now through a life that somehow didn't lead up to its own expectations, a life that, dang it, got thwarted by this, that, or the other thing. Cynicism can be fatal to older people, who get to feeling, sometimes for good reason, that life didn't deal 'em the cards they could have played. I get that.
But still, I think I ought to pin his picture to my book case to remind me, at all costs, not to become him. It's an old fart thing--life is a bullet train passing you by.
I came away from his braying, thinking that maybe this poor soul is what he is because he's lost his way to Mother Teresa's third step, to bewonderment. He can't feel the pulse of God in the sway of the trees or the quiet rush of old Muddy right there beside him, to see God's grace in the eagle lighting from that huge nest in the cottonwoods just down the road. His soul's somehow emptied its own capacity for bewonderment.
And all he sees is himself, really, and above him there on the Missouri River, the buzzards.
Sheesh, that's bleak.
But maybe the whole twenty minutes was just an act--crazy old crank wanting to preen in front of a couple of younger bucks. I'd like to think that's possible. After all, he's human, too, carries the image of God. Maybe it's so. Wouldn't that be something?