Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Faith in Port au Prince

I may be wrong, but I don't believe I've ever heard a sermon on that particular OT passage, something out of II Kings, a visitation King Jehoash makes to a wheezing Elisha. But there's nothing tender about this bedside visit because the King is scared silly. The Aramites visit and kill and maim at will.

Elisha tells the King to pick up a bow and shoot an arrow out the window. More than passing strange but harmless enough. When Jehoash does, Elisha says, “The Lord’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Aram!” Something of a sacrament.

So much for that.

“Now take the arrows,” Elisha tells the King, and "strike the ground.” Obligingly, the King does so, then looks up wonders what the old geezer's next absurdity will be.

The old man throws a tantrum. "What?--just three times?" the prophet says. "You should have done it much more because now you're only safe for a few attacks." I think that's the gist of it.

Then, in the very next verse, Elisha up and dies.

The forty lashes result from the King's lack of faith. He's plainly lackadaisical, as I would be, I'm sure, if some spooky octogenarian muttered, between staggered breaths, that I should whack the ground with a handful of arrows. 

And that's exactly where the preacher wanted to take us in the sermon. Lack of passion. Lack of faith.

But right there, at the moment of moral application, I was airlifted to the crowded city streets of Port au Prince, Haiti.

I remembered a night, outside, riding through barely navigable streets overflowing with men and women and children. In a climate as equatorial is Haiti's, whole families live outside, hundreds and hundreds and thousands of people on the street, all the time. I'd never seen anything like it.

Just outside my window, several miles-worth of Iowa farmland stretches to the horizon. It's early morning, no sign yet of dawn. Hwy 60 is right out there, a four-lane thoroughfare that slashes diagonally through four-cornered farmland between the Twin Cities and Omaha. But at this moment, no lights appear down the highway. Right now, I live as if totally alone here.
If economists want to be kind, they call Haiti "a developing nation"; others simply say it is "a failed state." There's little government, and what there is is shady. And the city, as you can imagine, is a mess. Just down the road, people celebrate ethnicity by taking buckets and brushes to city streets.

In Port au Prince, hundreds of thousands of people walk the overcrowded streets at all hours, all of them descendants of African slaves. I could spend the rest of my days right here in front of these big windows and never once see an African-American walk through our back yard on his or her way to somewhere else. 

What I'm saying is the world I live in and the streets of Port au Prince, Haiti, could not be more different.
 But that night in the city what swept into my mind was an absurdity: that God hears their prayers just like he hears mine and ours out here among the street scrubbers, just as he hears men and women and children around the world in suburbs and inner cities, small towns and farmsteads. He hears all of them--all of us--at the very same moment. He's paying attention in Port au Prince and Pittsburgh and Princeton and Peewaukee, for heaven sake. Even Orange City. Even Alton.

In the middle of yesterday's sermon I found myself back in a world unimaginably unlike my own, but just as populated with pray-ers who were and are not a bit unlike myself.

God hears all of us simultaneously. Millions and millions?

Get serious. That's what I thought. Someone's got a bridge to sell.

How can any being listen to a gadzillion prayers muttered at the very same moment all over the planet and know--get that? know--what's good for every last one of the earnest petitioners? Pardon me while I go out and whack the ground three times.

Poor Jehoash, standing there like a stooge with a handful of domesticated arrows. I'm sure he meant well. The dying prophet tells him to strike the ground and he listens. He's not a fool. He follows orders. Three times--and then gets thrashed by a prophet who dies just one verse later.

It's crazy, isn't it? Faith, I mean. It's flat out easier not to believe.

But still we do. I do anyway, most of the time and probably not by choice.

I don't know that preacher ever thought he'd take me to Haiti yesterday, but he did. Amazing.

No comments: