I listen for what I can affirm. I presume that people have treasured enthusiasms that are worthy of affirmation in some small way, and I try to find out what is it about the football game or even the legislation that seems to address a hope or a fear in that person. I start there and see where we can go. I do that in the classroom all the time, when I say something that leads a student to conclude that I’m not on their side. I try to provoke. I think everything I say I really believe, but I do try and direct it in such a way that it invites a sometimes passionate response, or at least that makes the person feel they must respond in order to be true to who they are. And once they do that, that’s not the end of the conversation. That’s the beginning of more questions.
I pray that when the stakes are higher than a baby swing, she will be surrounded by friends who are eager to help. Friends who will sit with her through the mundane, who will help pull her out of her darkest struggle, and who will chase the beauty in the world and make sure she doesn’t miss it.
I want to live a contemplative life and, as an extension of that, to be a contemplative writer. I already tend toward that kind of life. I love thinking and getting into the deep space in my mind to explore and make connections. But getting into that space in a meaningful way can be difficult because it requires time and space. If there are no empty spaces for contemplation, there is no contemplation.
I find it heartening that in the face of incomprehensible loss, when life was stripped down to its most meager essentials, many entrusted their painful sojourn to an aesthetic creation. I can’t help but think that something within them believed that shaping their sorrow into art was indispensable, that it was precisely what their broken and wounded selves needed to find some semblance of home again.
The church was a place of incredible, deliberate, beauty. It had been some time since I’d been in a place of worship so utterly beautiful. As I walked down the main aisle and then the smaller aisles at the south and north portals, my son walked beside me. He’d never been in a church like this. It was his first time to behold, and in his little mind configure, how a church can look like this. Here is a human-made artifact of craftsmanship that, somehow, actually embodies the joy—the nearly incomprehensible reality—of Emmanuel, God with us.