“O you who hear prayer, to you all men will come.”
The man played a significant role in my life from the moment I bought a book of his, a novel that subsequently altered the courses of my life. To him, actually, I need to attribute most every blip that runs across the screen in front of me. I was interested in writing before I read his novel, but when I came to the last page, I was sure I wanted, someday, to write stories.
Was he a Christian? I don’t know. He was liberally educated in the Christian tradition. His formal education was undertaken in schools that defined themselves as Christian. His mother was devout, ever close to the Lord. His father was the son of an atheist, but, warmed by the joy of his wife’s faith, became something of a believer himself.
He came to adulthood in the difficult years of the American Depression, the intellectual world into which he walked once he’d graduated from college were union struggles on the East coast, where he fell into company with the folks who became what we used to call “leftists,” the kind Sen. McCarthy, a couple decades later, would seek to out and purge from all government positions. In the company he kept during the American Depression, it would have been impossible for him not to run with those who were, quite simply, communist. Many, many thinking people were, and he was “thinking people,” as proud as he was of that description as he was anxious to earn it. He loved ideas.
I’m quite sure that his beliefs about man and God were shaped by a world in which the Christian religion of his youth was considered the odd residue of primitive notions that soon would simply disappear. He was, without question, what we could call today, a modernist.
And a free thinker. He used to tell me that the two most important writers of early England were Geoffrey Chaucer and John Gower. He loved Chaucer, because Chaucer chased the story wherever it went, interested only in truth. Gower, he said, wanted only to preach. Chaucer loved every last pilgrim, including the Wife of Bath, loved the feel of dirt in his fingers, an earthiness my friend knew growing up on the edge of the Great Plains. He always said he was bound by his calling to tell the truth.
Once was upbraided at a family dinner when an aunt chided him for sexual explicitness. In the barn with the men later, one of those who’d been silent at dinner told him how much he loved the passage on page whatever—“when that guy and that girl. . .”
Was my friend a believer? I don’t know. He became, in many ways, a kind of father figure, and I remember once, before he died, when he said I was more talented than he was at my age. I’ll never forget that.
Was he a believer? I don’t know. When he was dying, his children made it clear that they wouldn’t allow any local do-good missionaries into his room; their father’s IQ was 150. He was beyond evangelization.
But the morning he died—and I have this from an unimpeachable witness—the nurse who was attending him noted his agitation. “Can I pray with you?” she asked him. He said yes, and they did.
I’m not a universalist, and neither was David. What he promises here in verse two of Psalm 65 is really praise to the Lord. I know that.
But I also know that my friend, on his deathbed, came, on his knees, before the throne. And that fact—that story—brings me great joy.