My friend Morley is a thoughtful atheist and, I might add, a fine and interesting fellow. He came to a concert of mine a few years ago and that sparked more than one evening of friendly but challenging conversation over a few beers along the Corydon strip of cafes in Winnipeg called “Little Italy”.
To sum it up, Morley believes, as passionately as I do not, that ours is a meaningless and pitiless universe in which we need to bravely choose how to live according to whatever standards make sense to us. I, however, believe differently, that ours is an ordered creation sustained by and reflecting the eternal loving communion of the Trinity. Of course, neither of us can prove our belief to the other simply because both positions fall under the category of faith. Simply put, science can neither prove or disprove the existence of God. Both the belief in God and belief in the non-existence of God are beliefs that cannot be empirically proven. Ian Benson writes quite eloquently about this, maintaining that the realm of the secular is not the place where faith is absent – because there is no such realm – but rather, it is the realm of competing faith claims.
In the end, what we do have is our experiences and their interpretation. I have written elsewhere that I didn’t become a Christian because I was convinced by a robust, rational defense of Christianity – rather I am a Christian simply because I have always felt like I am known and cherished by some deep personhood quite outside of myself. Convincing? Probably not, but that’s my story and all the mini-stories I tell are some version of this larger narrative that I am helpless to not believe.
So… this last week, my daughter Sarah and grandson Luca have been in town. It’s impossible to describe the depth of feeling I have for my own kids – and then there’s this grandchild thing. There’s an ache of love there that is almost painful. And when I meet other grandparents, there’s always this “knowing” look. We are the lucky ones, no doubt.
One day Luca was chewing on a pea pod (not a good idea) and got some of that stringy goodness caught in his windpipe. He was able to breathe but developed an alarming wheez in his chest. As a result we spent the next 24 hours at the Children’s Hospital waiting for a procedure for removing the offending legume. While we were in the waiting room at the beginning of our ordeal, there was a young couple there – kinda rough looking. Obviously the young woman was sick and her thugish looking boyfriend sat emotionless beside her as they waited to be called. Luca (13 months) was toddling around as toddlers do until at one point he fixed his attention on the guy and started to walk toward him. As Luca approached, to everyone’s surprise he raised his hands to the startled young man whose stony face suddenly softened as he leaned over and picked up Luca. Luca wrapped his arms around the guy’s neck and gave him a big hug before settling rather contentedly on his lap. The fellow burst into the most rapturous boyish grin and exclaimed, “This never happens to me!”
Luca sat peacefully on his lap for a few minutes before sliding off and going on with his explorations. And the fellow, visibly moved, remained a little stunned in his chair.
I had the distinct impression the fellow was a little shaken by the event. And I sat there thinking we had just witnessed a holy moment where God reached out and touched that kid through our one year old.
As difficult as it was watching Luca suffer through the rest of the ordeal, I couldn’t shake that moment. For the next 24 hours I watched other parents with their suffering children and shared in the loving ache for our precious ones. This is not a pitiless universe. It is, in the words of Jim Croegaert’s song, “a lover’s world.” Wars and famine and pestilence will come and go, people will forget their dignity and pursue themselves, but in the end, love continues to rise from the ashes and her plume astonishes and ennobles us every time.
In closing I’ll share a song I’ve not thought about for some time. Keeping Vigil is a song I recorded on the Romantics and Mystics album. For some reason I rarely perform it, but have been humming it relentlessly this last week. It’s funny how songs step up to the plate exactly when they’re needed. What a gift!
Click HERE to read lyrics for Keeping Vigil
Jim lives with his wife Jana-Lee in Chicago and he supports his songwriting habit working as a hospital chaplain.