Some of you know that I've taken to hosting guest posts again this year. This week's is an absolute doozie. Many of you know Shawn Smucker. I stumbled across him a few years back, and immediately felt drawn to the honesty of his writing. In addition to being a heck of a writer, though, he's a kind gent. There's a lot to be said for that.
Enjoy Shawn's piece, and when you're finished, jump over to his place. You'll be glad you did.
My Sunday School teacher had kind eyes that worked hard to negate the firm, almost harsh wrinkles, her gentle personality emerging in spite of some long ago atrocities still etched on to her face. She was probably the same age as my grandmother. It was at her suggestion that one year, in January, when I was around ten years old, I started reading through the Bible. Three chapters every weekday and five on Sundays would do it, she said.
I read Genesis in one long sitting, starting on Sunday night at church in the nursery where my mother sat with my baby sister, continuing in the car with a flashlight, and finishing at home, in the top bunk, under the all-seeing eye of my reading light, well after midnight. I woke the next morning fairly certain the words had soaked into my skin. I felt holy.
* * * * *
As soon as you hit Indiana, things smooth out, as if the earth is taking in a deep breath, or sighing. Long, flat lines stretch in every direction: lines of corn stubble poke up through the snow, lines of tall thin trees stand at the horizon, and wispy lines of clouds look down. Abandoned windmills age the skyline, like wrinkles around the eyes.
The highway is straight and rises up and down in long, gradual grades, ignoring the rundown shacks forgotten in the groves of trees, ignoring the small towns, ignoring the factories and the farms and the isolated houses whose only movement is the barely visible smoke rising from the chimney.
We pass it all by, rarely stopping.
* * * * *
I relished the times when my Sunday School teacher would ask me how it was going. Until a few months later when I got stranded in Isaiah and lost interest. Then I started avoiding her outside of class, ducking into side halls, plunging into the bathroom.
I developed a paranoia, around that time, that I might drop the communion plate as it passed. They were large, chrome, hubcap-shaped dishes, and they each held at least fifty small plastic cups filled with grape juice. The whole thing shimmered like a ruby, and every time it came to me I held on tight, white-knuckled, quite certain the dish had a life and mind of its own.
That’s a lot of grape juice, I’d think to myself. That’s a lot of blood.
My little hands shook as I squeezed on to a plateful of the blood of Jesus Christ, shed for me. Relief surged through me after I successfully passed it on. Because my hands were shaking, I had to put my small portion of grace into the holder in the pew in front of me.
The plate full of crackers was much less intimidating.
* * * * *
Driving a long, straight highway over a countryside pulled flat makes it easy to believe we don’t have much choice in life, that our timelines of existence are simply made up of things that happen to us, one after the other.
Then again, maybe that’s just the illusion of winter, with its large icy puddles lying where you know they don’t belong: in the long rows of corn stubble and at the edges of small streams.
* * * * *
I’ve spent my life afraid of dropping the plate, watching the blood spill on my childhood Sunday khakis, small plastic cups tipping over and making a mess on those sitting around me. The pink dots on the white carpet would forever remind people of my failings.
“Remember that?” parents would say to their small children, while pointing at the stains. “That’s what happens when little boys don’t hold on to the plate.”
But recently, when I take time to sit in silence, I recognize an emerging voice somehow communicating through the wordlessness. A kind voice. It cares nothing for abandoned Bible reading plans or dropped communion plates – I finally understand this when I take the time to listen.
And sometimes, if I go deep enough into the silence, the voice turns to sounds and syllables and eventually words, and the words turn me into a puddle – not an icy one stranded in the middle of an Indiana field, but a thawed out one reflecting spring. The words the melt me are like a sigh, or a May breeze, or a long straight road.
“You are enough, just as you are.”
Original photograph by tylerhoff, Creative Commons via Flickr.