Can You See Anyone?

The Locked Heart
The Locked Heart

"Can you see anything?" This is the question Jesus asks after applying a folk remedy on the eyes of a man who was blind. The man takes a good hard look around and says, "I can see people, but they look like trees, walking." Jesus phrases the question as anything, but the man answers as if Jesus was more concerned if he could see anyone. Which, given Jesus' way, is exactly what Jesus wants to know. The man's eyesight, sadly, is not yet fully healed, for he can barely make out what ought to be people. To his myopic eyes, they look like "trees, walking."


They're wooden, you might say. They lumber along, not quite human, kinda stilted and awkward. They appear uprooted, displaced. They look close enough like persons, they seem to be living, but their hands and legs are as stiff as limbs, shuffling like they're being manipulated by an outside cause, buffeted about by some wind, instead of moved by the heart's warm blood that flows from within.


The lack of grace is telling. The fact that he can only see objects that roughly resemble human beings tells Jesus that his job of healing is not done, that there's more to see, that he might want to back up and make another run at this thing called healing. So Jesus lays his hands on his eyes once more. This time we find that the man "looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything (and everyone) clearly."


May I suggest that this is our story, whether we are sighted or not. Sure enough, this man is cured of the physical disability called blindness; but more importantly, he was healed of a deeper inability or unwillingness to see. It's this blindness that is epidemic in our culture and threatens to suffocate our souls: the tendency to see others as partial instead of whole, as objects instead of human. As Jewish mystic Martin Buber would say, we tend to see others as an It instead of a Thou. The formerly blind man was set free by Jesus to a restored sight lit by compassionate "insight." He looked on others intently and clearly.


Just yesterday I took my wife to the eye doctor. Actually, a retina specialist. We've been monitoring some micro holes and tears that have caused occasional "floaters." My wife's a physician, so I needn't say how concerning this is for us. The specialist wants to keep his eyes on this, to see if things have gotten worse or stabilized since the last visit. So I dropped my wife off to have her eyes dilated, ran a quick errand, then returned and parked.


For a few moments I sat in the parking lot. I checked my mail, reluctant to join the others in the worry-thick waiting room. People came in and out of the medical complex. I say "people," but to be honest, most looked like "trees, walking." For a while I was under a spell, bewitched. I saw only Republicans, older white folk in Buicks. Most limped along, or were wheeled by adult children, or scraped their walkers across the hot asphalt. I groaned at old age, its predictability, the incessant doctor appointments and Fox TV and dimishment that increasingly define their days. Then, slowly, instead of "their," I began to see "our." The gift of en-visioning began. I could see these men and women 20-30 years younger, even as children, their Buicks swapped for a Schwinn Stingray with a banana seat or a  '65 Mustang, their thick-soled, velcroed diabetic shoes replaced by Chuck Taylor high-tops. The men had full heads of hair, the women turned shapely and sat in convertibles. The ache in my own crumbling left knee began barking. I felt the fear and vulnerability that my wife might be a doctor's appointment away from losing her vocation. I was no longer seeing Republican or Democrat, old or young, affluent or poor, Buick or Prius, Fox or MSNBC. It gave way to Thou. For a moment it was all human and frail and glorious, one great sense of humanity swept over me. I could see time in a moment, all that's passing and flawed and transient rooted together and mysteriously blossoming, held in the larger love of God. For a moment, I saw clearly and intently. I was healed by the hand of Christ. Then I went inside to hold my wife's hand exactly as we had some 35 years ago. In that moment I knew, as Martin Buber also taught, that "Hatred remains blind by its very nature; one can hate only part of a being."


In the end, my wife got the report we'd hoped for: her eyes have stabilized and are good to go! As for her husband's eyesight, well . . .


The world is full of people we don't get. Guess what, chances are, they don't get us either. Maybe they don't vote like you, or drive like you, or parent like you, or worship like you, or look like you, or even like you. As Lynyrd Skynyrd once put it, "There's things goin' on that you don't know." Which makes the challenge before us formidable. Our differences make a difference. Many of them are deeply rooted in values. But if that's all we see, we remain in need of having our eyesight healed. Healed again and again. Because, like the man without sight before Jesus, we need Jesus to keep his hands on us, to continue healing us day by day till our eyes have wings. Again, Buber: "The It is the chrysalis, the Thou the butterfly."


And maybe, finally, we need to hear Jesus say to us, as he said to the healed man so long ago, "Do not even go into the village. Go home." Can we give ourselves a break when it comes to mixing it up in the public forum? Read, study, ponder, google, pray, post, vote--but do so humbly. Very few of us are politicians, no matter how sure we are of our opinions. Instead of allowing our judgments and answers to make us seethe and see red, why not start closer in? Why not just go home and live out the love of Christ? Live it out where you are most unceremoniously at home, in the ordinary places and through the simple, regular actions expressed within the lives of those who are closest to you, whether you like it or not. Go home to the sleep-deprived clerk at the 7-11 around the corner and make her day with an unexpected tip, or maybe a compliment. Or, here's an idea, ask her how she's doing--then listen. Try that and see where it puts you. Because there's a larger life beyond our tribalism, cynicism, nihilism. November 8 comes and goes, but God's love is eternal--and we are all brothers and sisters.


I grew up in a home with a family Bible that sat on the coffee table in the living room of every house we ever lived in. We moved, but the family Bible stayed at the center. The Salvation Edition. Sure, it may have gathered dust, and there were times when the family fur flew, but there it sat. Watching us. Reading us. Calling us. A holy book with a picture of Jesus carrying his cross. Letting us know through thick and thin the cost of sacrificial love, offering us the key to our locked hearts, the larger way home.



Proffitt Family Bible
Proffitt Family Bible

You Can't Make This Up

Brother Vinny takes me in.
Brother Vinny takes me in.

I once had a cat named Brother Vinny. He was a six-week old kitten when we first met one late-October day. I was visiting the bookstore of Holy Cross Abbey, in Berryville, VA, something I somehow manage to do annually, a sort of unintentional pilgrimage, if there is such a thing. Let me explain.


I'd been called to do the funeral for a dear friend, Mr. Ed Myers (aka "Bumps"), who passed away on October 21, 2014, at age 82. I'd known Ed and his wife, Bobbie, for about 20 years, mostly through serving together on a number of annual mission trips to West Virginia. When I received the call, I had no idea what I would say, but I knew exactly the tenor I wanted to set for the service. Ed's spirit was very down-to-earth and honest. Casual. He tried to stay open to whatever the day might bring. And if he knew you had a need, especially if it involved automotive repair, he was your man. So, instead of scripting his funeral, I sought to be open and present to wherever the Spirit led. Celtic Christians often liken God's Spirit to a wild goose. I was about to learn why.


Part of this prompting can be traced to a new way of living that I've intentionally pursued over the past decade or so, one that seeks to fuse the means by which I pursue something with the end I'm seeking. I don't always succeed, but I'm convinced that how we live is decisive, that the process of living becomes the one life we live. So here was a perfect chance to practice this approach with Ed's funeral and committal services. But intuiting my way through this proved no mean feat. In fact, I'd say it was both more nerve-wracking and heart-freeing than putting pen to paper could ever aspire. I let go of my usually careful, often over-prepared approach. There would be no manuscript. Just a few notes as I sought to sketch the winged migration of the Holy Ghost, wherever and however it manifested itself as the creative interplay of the divine Spirit and spirits: the creative Wild Goose sweeping through Ed's spirit and throughout the other grieving, groaning, grateful spirits of friends and family gathered in their shared loss to remember him.


As I packed for the drive from St. Louis to Leesburg, VA, Ed's hometown and final resting place, the Wild Goose first led my thoughts to my cat, Cattin. She's a Calico kitten we found curled up in the straw with our hens one harsh winter. Feral, she gradually warmed up to my wife's wooing, as Sandy fed and talked softly to her each day. Months later, spayed and vaccinated and well-fed, Cattin came to live in our backyard with a shepherd's eye on our flock of chickens. Wherever they were, she'd go too, keeping watch at a distance. She came to let us pet her, and would even approach and meow for such affection, but whenever we tried to pick her up, she'd skirt away. She's just not one to be held.


I knew I was thinking of Cattin because I was grieving Ed. I'd found his spirit: warm, approachable, skittish. He asked good, hard questions. He scratched his head and chewed on my responses. But if I got too close, he'd vamoose. There was many a time in West Virginia, usually after lunch, when we'd look around and he would be nowhere to be found, only to reappear later like Houdini. Ed craved friendship, but something in him, and, surely, in most all of us, feared intimacy. Especially intimacy with God. He'd let himself get only so close, maybe even be fed a little, but if things got too personally vulnerable, say, to the point of allowing others or God to "hold" or "carry" him, he'd skedaddle.  Who knows? Maybe he needed to mull things over by himself like a good introvert. Or maybe the kitchen of intimacy was just too hot. But he always returned for more--and was a loyal friend.


The Wild Goose chase continued. I was then led from Cattin to Julian of Norwich. Julian lived during the 14th century, a time when the whole world, not unlike today, seemed to be breaking apart at the seams: endless warfare waged (the Hundred Years' War was fought from 1337 - 1453); the  bubonic plague, or Black Death, would kill a third of Europe's population in just five years; social and economic upheaval; clerical scandal and corruption--Julian's days, much like Job's days, had gone to the dogs. So Julian chose the life of an anchoress, one who was "set apart" to live in prayerful solitude and provide spiritual direction. They built a little room for her, attached to the church of St. Julian at Conisford in Norwich. From here she lived alone, prayed, and from her curtained window offered spiritual counsel to any who approached. 


Julian is known for a series of visions she had on her deathbed at the age of 30, called Showings. When she recovered, Julian wrote down a quick description of what she'd seen. Then 15-20 years later, she wrote a much longer version of these visions. In one of these visions the crucified Christ comes to her and holds out his hand. In it lies something as tiny as a hazelnut. She understood this to be everything that was ever created. That God made it, God loves it, and God preserves it. We are small, yes, but never contemptibly small--not in the eyes of the One who holds us through thick and thin.  It is this Christ who says emphatically to all her questions and doubts, "I may make all things well, and I can make all things well, and I shall make all things well, and I will make all things well; and you will see yourself that every kind of thing will be well." God's love holds us, enfolds us, and, in offering us to the world, unfolds us as the gifts we're meant to be. 


I was convinced I was drawn to Julian because of Ed's allergy to being "held." I figured if Julian could hold to such a hopeful vision of God during one of the darkest periods of history, then maybe we could to.


Before I left for Virginia, my friend Belden Lane and I were visiting over coffee. I had mentioned how I was drawn to Julian as I thought of Ed's funeral. We both imagined the unimaginable: saw Julian sitting and praying, at her window offering spiritual consolation as best she could, while the plague-ravaged bodies of her beloved Norwich neighbors were being piled and burned in the streets. We grew quiet. Since there was nowhere further to go with that, I tried to move on to another topic, when Belden said something I missed. "What's that?" I asked. He replied, "I said, 'Julian and her cat.'" I had completely forgotten about her cat! Cats were the one pet allowed in monastic life because they helped get rid of vermin, and Julian was known to be be quite fond of her cat. Some even consider her the Patron Saint of Cats. Julian and her cat tilled the Light as the whole world turned dark. I had not yet left St. Louis, but already the Spirit had led me on a wild goose chase from Ed to Cattin, to Julian, to Julian's cat. You can't make this stuff up.


l could go on for awhile about the way time and space and heart converged to make Ed's memorial and graveside services gifts in keeping with his life and the God who loved him through and through. The humor and lightheartedness, the myriad stories, coincidences, the geese veeing south in the sky above the cemetery as Ed's cremains were interred. But you have a life to live, so I'll save that for the next time we visit. As it turned out, I never mentioned being drawn to Julian of Norwich, her cat, or Cattin in any of my comments.


But I will mention this. While in Virginia, my gracious host and friend Meredith and I visited the bookstore and gift shop at Holy Cross Abbey. As we drove up, we startled several stray cats, all mommas--three gray tabbies, a Calico, and a one-eyed Persian. They had been lolling about with their saggy bellies draped over the warm concrete of the front porch. Once I pulled in, they ducked out, deep into the dark hedgerow.


I'd come to expect and welcome such a sight from previous visits to the monastery. Brother Vincent, the overseer of the bookstore, never met a stray cat he didn't love--and feed. Which begat more and more kittens for him to "adopt out." Inside the shop, Brother Vincent had a panther-black Bombay kitten darting to a laser light dot thrown among the shelves that once held only books. Increasingly, the indigenous tomes on prayer and spirituality were being colonized and displaced by small stacked pucks of Little Whiskas and bags of Purina donated by the faithful.


The upshot is that Brother Vincent discerned soon enough that it was the Lord's Will that this kitten's new home be mine. The Lord's Will. So what could I do? I left with more books, six flavors of creamed honey, a cellophaned box of of dark-chocolate bark, and his namesake kitten: Brother Vinny. The two of us drove back to St. Louis on a mission from God. He wouldn't share the driving, but he rode well, snug in my lap.


My wife and I never had a question but that God gifted us with Brother Vinny. Just as we had no answer for the undiagnosed virus that took him from us so quickly. No words for how he purred and kneaded his way in and made us all his. No words for watching him curl up on the corner of the bed that always received morning's first light, for how the warm white patch on his chest proved to be his purr-button.


Brother Vinny's strange virus took us first to a vet at Pet Smart, then to a local animal hospital. Lots of tests and procedures and head-scratching. The last day Sandy and I visited him (yes, the place had "visiting hours"), the nurse almost forgot about us. We, too, forgot the time, lost in this sad goodbye. We held and rubbed on Brother Vinny for a couple of hours before finally handing him back to the nurse. She wrapped him in a little red blanket, then followed us out. As the automatic door opened, we heard some of the attendants oohing and aahing behind us. Then one said, "He's watching them leave." We turned around, and there was Brother Vinny in her arms, looking straight at us, wrapped in the blanket. For all the world, he appeared to be wearing a monk's cowl.


Now, I'm a grown man--better yet, I've had almost 60 years on this good earth to grow up. I drive a pickup. But the hospital had to call and leave messages for months while I put off picking up Brother Vinny's cremains. Until an unguarded moment: "Yes, I'm sorry. I'll be by today. Yes, tomorrow at the latest." So, sheepish, I go in. Get handed a sheet of paper heavy as lead with the names of deceased pets and living owners. I initial and receive a small cardboard box, heavier still, and walk out. Back in my truck, the box holds me, still and stunned. I idle between the yellow lines where I'm parked. I stare out at spring's sway in May. I can see Brother Vinny in that bright patch of first light at the foot of the bed. I weather the ache of having been taken in again. Mazzy Starr's "Into Dust" plays on the radio.


You can't make this up.






Beautiful "uncatchable" Cattin!
Beautiful "uncatchable" Cattin!

Them Bones

Speaking of bones . . . I have a good friend who happens to be an orthopedic surgeon. I say happens, but not in the sense of happenstance, or fluke, as if one day he was a hedgehog and then—Presto!—Dr. Coles L’Hommedieu, Orthopedic Surgeon! Instead I hope to stress that his role as a surgeon is not essential to our friendship. We’re more apt to hold forth about the enduring merit of Golden Earring’s “Radar Love,” and swap armchair philosophy over Chinese at Wan Fu’s, than discuss the latest advances in laparoscopic procedures. We have so much more in common. He plays bass for a rock band called Hush House that once opened for The Dave Matthews Band. I once took drum lessons for a month. He was a soccer star in college till he blew a knee. I once blew a knee trying to catch the ice cream truck. (I still have a Pavlovian response to “Turkey in the Straw.”) He’s a God-skeptic. I’m God-obsessed. He likes to say inspiring things like, “Every day I just try to say Yes.” I say, “Every time you say Yes, you’re also saying No.” You see how I could go on about all the striking similarities between us.


Yes, he is also an orthopedic surgeon, one who traffics in our mortal bones. Whether broken, fractured, chipped or flat-out done-in, he’s up to his neck in bones. Often enough, he replaces knees and hips. Occasionally, when we’re out to lunch, my left knee-cap locks up as I try to rise from the table after downing a hefty plate of Kung Pao chicken. He likes to tap said knee and say, “One day this knee will be mine.” He’s creepy that way. I laugh uneasily. The meter’s running on my meniscus-challenged knees. His knees too, by the way.


Our friendship has little to do with his profession, but everything to do with his calling. Behind that surgical mask is a man who values others enough to take their bones and joints seriously. If you push Coles about his career choice, he’ll acknowledge more than a little connection between his blown knee in college and his desire to be an orthopedic surgeon. But how he doctors is just as important as why. Let’s say you visit Coles to discuss having your hip or knee replaced. He’ll listen, then ask you how bad the pain is. Maybe you answer, “It’s about as bad as it can get, Doc. I’m popping Tylenol like candy.” He’s liable to say, “Go home. If it’s still hurting in a week, call me.” He’s a surgeon, but surgery, for Coles, is a last resort. The important thing is not the “fix,” but how surgery fits our overarching quest for life, how we live with and manage the inevitable suffering that accrues with the miles and years on our mortal bones.


Mortal bones. Could we find two less popular words? Bones, like Rodney Dangerfield, get no respect. The skin, our largest organ, gets the most attention. Other body parts get their due, even memorialized: the heart on Valentines Day, the more sexy parts and muscles make magazine covers, even the hands get sculpted. Sure, skeletons dance about on Halloween, but then it’s back to the closet. And our culture is equally disdainful of mortality. Mortal equals morbid in our culture. Gauche. Even “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you may die”—every hedonist’s clarion call--has been cropped to “Eat, drink, and be merry!” Ernest Becker’s classic The Denial of Death nails our aversion to mortality. He won a Pulitzer for this book in 1974. It still rings incisive, alarming, and true. Becker makes a very persuasive case for the “vital lie” of our culture, our refusal to face our own mortality. I could rest my case here, but why stop now? Since none of us is getting any younger, why not turn playful and monkey around? Um . . . etymologically?


Used as a noun, mortality speaks of the state of being subject to death. Whatever we hope might happen afterwards, we all must fuss with and face this Ending in others and ourselves, this grievous undoing and loss of life as we know it in this world, our own peculiar patch of time and space. The adjective mortal draws even closer: We’re mortal beings. This is so integrally true that we often use the same word as a noun: We are mortals.


Mortality is our way of naming a common human happening called limits and demise, our process of dying and death. This happening begins at birth and takes a lifetime to complete. It happens with a tragically short life; also with a long life, but in a more fully arced way. It happens to vegans and carnivores, smokers and non-smokers, folks with good and bad credit. It also happens at an alarming rate. Time’s always outpacing us, so the dead always outnumber the living. 17 years ago, using the data compiled by Harvard’s Nathan Keyfitz, Annie Dillard observed that “the dead outnumber us . . . by 14 - 1.” But this estimate is conservative. Keyflitz guessed that the ratio could be as high as 20 – 1. All this, despite our world’s population explosion. Mortality is The Happening of All Happenings. It’s always happening to us from beyond us. (In fact, it happens to all of creation, but we’re the ones who are singularly aware of its happening.) “All flesh is grass,” the prophet Isaiah cries. We’re toast.


Now for the twist: You might be surprised to hear that the increasing clicks and creaks of our mortal bones are directly, albeit mysteriously, tied to our happiness. Think about it. The root of happiness is hap-, which appears in words as diverse as hapless or haply, but especially in happen. Traced back, we see that happen is rooted in the Old Norse word for good fortune, for chance or luck. This positive regard, over time, morphed into our more neutral word for happening as any occurrence whatsoever. What if we endued mortality, The Happening of All Happenings, with the original value-laden intimacy between happiness and happening? And if that’s not already too much of a reach, what if we also brought the original Norse sense of good fortune back into play as well? Can these mortal bones also be good, even lucky, bones?


Combining good fortune and mortality might not be such a stretch, after all. Just consider how often inexplicable or highly improbable things are ascribed to luck. “Harry musta had a patch of bad luck,” you might say, scratching your head when you find out that the drug that threw Harry’s cancer into remission also contributed to his heart failure. “I’m just lucky, I guess,” the old D-Day veteran says, after being the last man left standing from his platoon on Normandy Beach. Something against unspeakable odds happens, whether good or bad, so we speak of luck. And then there are those great-hearted ones who refuse to tease apart the good and the bad. “Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth,” 37-year-old Lou Gehrig once said so memorably, and there wasn’t a dry eye in Yankee stadium. Luck gets the blame, the credit, or a little of both.


Or God. Many religious folk are often allergic to speaking of luck, especially in any causal way. “There’s no such thing as luck,” they chirp. Or, “There are no coincidences or accidents in life.” The assumption seems imply that God, being omnipotent, is dictating every little detail of our lives in some benevolent fashion, whether we know it or not. I’ve never been comfortable with this glib take on the mystery of life’s complexity. Nor do I agree that those who reject this chipper take on cause-and-effect lack faith. Such platitudes may appear confident, even happy, but I smell a rat. There’s more than a whiff of sweat and desperation rising up underneath. They may speak of God’s sovereignty, but the words feel forced, as if faith hasn’t the backbone for disappointment, or the knees for humble lament.


But happiness is not God. Whenever we worship happiness instead of God, we leave vast acres of our humanity on the altar. All glittering idols are hollow shells, they eclipse divinity and destroy humanity. Go ahead, pick one up from the beach. Lift it to your ear. You may think you hear the very ocean itself, but there’s nothing there. Authentic holiness fosters an incarnational wholiness, a lifelong path that involves facing, accepting, and integrating the full spectrum of our emotions and thoughts, not matter how unpleasant or dark. God in Christ never dodges the fullness of necessary experience.


Which brings us to the acceptance and loving embrace of our mortal bones. Bless all 206 of them. They’re all in the dark. That’s where they live and do their work: feed on marrow, bend, flex, support and protect our organs and muscles, do all that helps us greet and engage the world each day. We walk. We shake hands. We eat. Bones are why our head is hard. That smile, those teeth? Bones. Well, not really. Teeth are not bones, but our jaw is. You get the point. Our bones also place us, limit us, help us know where we end and the other begins. That size 13D is my foot. Our yeoman bones do all the heavy lifting, unnoticed until one breaks, or turns porous and crumbles away with osteoporosis. Our mortal bones do their limited best to attach us to our innards and to our world, to help us cohere in life-giving ways. That’s why they are often linked to our mortality, both literally and metaphorically.


My neighbor across the street has kyphosis, which results in curvature of the spine. Hers is severe. If the angle of her posture were a clock-face, over the sixteen years I’ve known her, she’s moved from 1:00 to 3:00. It’s all she can do to look ahead, instead of down at the sidewalk. But she does, about twice a day, on walks to the neighborhood 7-11. I can’t tell you the odds of my neighbor having kyphosis. It happens. She did not choose this. But she makes other choices every day as to how she’ll bear up. The odds that she’ll greet you with great effort—will strain to look up at you with a grin and a hello— are overwhelmingly in your favor.


But, really, who wants to own up to their mortal bones? Hebrew Scripture tells this amazing story of how God had to sneak up on a man named Ezekiel to get him to pay attention to his mortal bones. God came in the dark of the night, in the form of a dream, when his ego was disarmed. Dreams are often God’s way of slipping past all the games we play, our protective rationalizations and denials. Like a courier under fire, God crawls under the barbed wire of our defenses and delivers a coded letter to our heart. In his dream, Ezekiel says, “The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones” (37:1).


Let’s capture the tone here. Think ambushed. The Spirit sweeps by like a great bird and snatches him up, then drops him like a rock, a thud of dust in the middle of a valley of dry and clattering desolation. Jewish scholar and sage Abraham Heschel notes that Ezekiel does not seize the moment, the moment seizes him. He is overwhelmed. The moment of truth is “violently, powerfully urged upon him.” In other words, something big and beyond is happening.


And there in that valley Ezekiel is forced to tour the mortal desolation up close. God doesn’t simply take him to the valley; God leads him through the valley. God guides him “round and round” all these bones. They were “very many and very dry.” Everywhere desolation and desiccation. They’re downright unnerving, all these lifeless bones. It’s hard work, reading these bones. As Ernesto Cardenal says, “We want God’s voice to be clear as day, but it is deep as night. It is deep and clear, but with a dark clarity like an x-ray. It reaches our bones.”


And when God speaks, he calls Ezekiel by his true name. No, not Ezekiel. That’s what we call him, but not God. Instead, God asks him, “Mortal, can these bones live?” Other prophets might get called by their personal names, like Jeremiah and Amos, but God never calls Ezekiel by any name other than Mortal.


Just maybe we could hear God more clearly and deeply if we knew Mortal as our deepest name. Maybe there’s really no such thing as normal—only Mortal. We are not God, not perfect, not spirit. We’re graphically flawed, small and passing, with myriad maladies. The greatest of us are simply Spirit-filled specks. And maybe the church is that place where this is most celebrated, and, thereby, apparent. We’re here because we’re “not all there!” We need to rub elbows and bump against each other. We need bony reminders of God. Someone once complained to William Sloan Coffin that the church was just a crutch. Coffin replied, “Oh, and you think you don’t limp?”


Call us Mortal, Lord, then maybe we can hear you when you ask, “Can these bones live?” These bones. Not those, but these bones. Our bones—never mind about that bag of bones over there. God is taking us on a tour of the valley that is our world. God is asking us and no one else. Again, “Can these bones live?”


Maybe mortality is not simply about scarcity and demise. Maybe being mortal is more about embodying The Happening of all Happenings that is our own particular destiny. Can we see our brief passage in this larger, more generous way, from grace to grace? This lively yet limiting sense we’re all born into, of being risked into the world for the time being, for now, delimited yet embraced by a healthy, healing dose of happiness, even luck? Can we live with nothing guaranteed except the beauty of our beloved God-created, God-redeemed, God-sustained givenness? Can we hear God calling us into the question of all questions, “Can these bones live?”


You could ask my neighbor across the road. Or talk with any of the 100s of people Coles has tended to on myriad medical mission trips to Belize. Or sit down with the two Belizian children Coles and his wife, Leslie, once took into their home. Both Sade and Adolfo had skeletal issues so severe they were brought to St. Louis for the necessary care. After multiple surgeries, weeks in body casts, and months of care-giving and tutoring by the L’Hommedieu family, they returned home to their families with blessed bones.


Or you could ask yourself, then watch the answer swell up from that dry valley where you once felt good as dead. It stirs, rattles about in the dark distance. It’s known by many names. Some call it faith. Others know it as hope. Many dare call it love. But the answer’s always been the same, “O God, you know.” Lord, you know, even when we do not know. We believe; help thou our unbelief. We trust you to know. Even now, something stirs—a mending, a re-pairing, a clattering together that choruses bone to bone, sinew to ligament to joint, the slowly unfolding spine, the God-breathed breath, the rising up.


--A version of this blog will be published in the forthcoming Fall issue of Desert Call.