As Close as We’ll Ever Be

The poet and philosopher Rubem Alves writes about the idea of writing a story or a novel with just one word. Could it be done? What word would he choose? Which words has the power to tell the whole story?

Of a singular word Emily Dickinson wrote, “I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and look at it, until it begins to shine.”

And Samuel Beckett spoke about the “literature of the unword,” which I would argue is the story of silence, or the story of nothing, or the story of chaos, or the story of the formless and void, which Scripture affirms is Christ, not only the maker of all things, but also the author, and the holder. Essentially Christ is reality, chaos, and silence. Christ is the story. Christ is the one word.

And when we tell our stories we’re essentially telling His. Mysteriously the stories are one and the same. We could even say our stories are the transubstantiation of the Gospel. For in it Christ is mysteriously present–he is with, over, under, and in our stories.

Which is why our stories (our lives) are so important, because all stories, fiction or real, poetic or musical, painted or drawn or built are the flesh and blood of humanity’s chaos, of the Spirit’s breath, of God’s kingdom here and now.

Why do we look to world events, to presidents, and new trends when the silence of the new heaven and new earth are right in front of us? That is the saddest story. That is the tragedy. For some cry out, “God I want to be closer to you!” without ever realizing they’re as close as they’ll ever be.

The Place Where They Meet

It’s the first day of vacation Bible school (why are school and vacation together in the same phrase?) and we’re sitting in a circle and I’m counting to ten while the third and fourth graders reach down to touch their toes and I notice a puddle forming under one of the boys. When I stand up I tell everyone we’re going to play a game in the grass on the other side of the church. 

The boy, nervously laughing, tells his teacher he sat in a puddle. To which a girl replied, “How did you sit in a puddle when there’s no water out here?” I’m glad no one noticed or else I might have peed my pants too and told everyone it was the cool thing to do.

I started the next group off with a series of wind sprints, to which they asked, “Aren’t we supposed to play games?” I had them line up along the fence and told them that on three they were to run down the the yellow line, touch it, and stay there.

“One, two, free.” And they all started running and I told them they all had to go back. “One two bee.” Again I tricked them and they had to go back. “One two ski.” This time they had caught on except for one little boy who kept running. I told him to go back and when he turned around I noticed he was wearing a hearing device. I stopped trying to trick them after that.

The day began with a skit where the pastor was playing a chef cooking in his kitchen who suddenly gets overrun with rats, screams, takes a broom, and stands up on a chair trying to beat the rats. I, playing the assistant, run into the kitchen to see what’s the matter. 

“Rats!” yells the chef. 

“Hats? Oh, you need a chefs hat, here let me get you one.”

“Not hats! Rats.”

“Bats? There’s not any bats in here, besides they only come out at night.”

“Not bats. Rats!”

“Cats? I don’t see any cats. But we sure could use some with all these rats. Rats!” And then I grab a broom and jump up onto a chair and scream like a little girl and the kids of course are laughing at the two men wearing aprons standing on chairs.

And then a third character enters the scene and talks about the small things, like bad words and rats, that can cause big problems, like sin and hurt feelings.

A wise woman once told me that we live in this tension of law and gospel. The law of course being the list of dos and don’ts. And the gospel being the love and grace of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus. And with one hand gripped in the other she pulled in opposite directions to portray this tension. Our goal, she said, is to stay in the place where these tensions meet. She said that often we error on the side of the law and she pulled her hands to the left. And then pulling her hands to the right she said that if we error it’s best to error on the side of the gospel. 

I’ve always agreed with that.

Because when we sin and cover it up and say something stupid like, “Look I sat in a puddle and I’m all wet.” Our mother still brings us a new set of underwear and shorts.