“Terrible. I scarcely knew what to do.”
My pastor watched me.
“Shock.” I was hunched in my chair. My hands were clasped between my knees. I could feel that he was watching me, but I wasn’t watching him.
“It’s sin,” he said.
We were in his office, exhausted, back now from our second day at the suicide house. “It’s sin,” he repeated.
I looked at him. “I’m so confused.”
“Let me ask you this. Do you know that it’s sin?”
“Does he know that it’s sin?”
“I don’t think so.”
We were speaking of one of the family members with whom I had sat for hours and sometimes prayed and sometimes just sat and sometimes listened to his plea to know why, why, why?
“You are still a baby in the deaconate. You will grow in discernment.”
“I hope that’s true. I hope he grows, too.”
“He’s not born yet. Not at all. Perhaps this is the Lord’s invitation, for him. I know he’s had several others.”
A flash went through my head. What kind of Lord is that? That’s the flash that went through my head.
What I said is, “You’re saying this…horror is one of several invitations?”
“The Lord continually invites those among the elect to come back to Him.”
“This way? This was an invitation?”
“Dikkon, that man surrounds his anxiety with words. He doesn’t want to be confronted by the Lord. He wears his words like armor. The Lord, who is straight with men like him—they don’t want to be confronted by the Lord.”
“I’m here in your office with this event hanging on my heart—where it will hang forever—because you proposed me as a deacon, and the body voted me in. And here I am.” I grimaced. “Thanks.”
He smiled, but thinly. “There is no logic about it. It’s not logical.”
“That’s what I told him.”
“Well, you were right to tell him that.”
“Suppose he comes back to me?”
“First, don’t borrow trouble from the future. Did he ask to come to you?”
“‘Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof.’”
“You can tell him that it’s sin.”
He rose from his desk and came around and sat next to me in the other chair. “Listen to me now, Dikkon. Listen to this, now. It’s not a sin; it’s sin.” He sat back and watched me. I tried to watch him back.
He pressed on. “Plain sin. Sin is like the air we breathe. We don’t breathe an air; we breathe air. Sin is everywhere, all around us. We are fallen creatures in a fallen world. You can tell him that it’s sin.”
“I was a salesman for twenty-eight years. You can’t sell something to someone who doesn’t want to buy it.”
“As a deacon, your job isn’t sales. Your job is to listen sincerely, to give love, and to tell truth. The Spirit is in charge of who will, or who will not, accept the love that is offered and be changed by the truth.”
With a grimace, I said, “That’s a relief.”
“We preach Christ crucified. You’re not selling anything. But if you had a product, your product would be the answer to sin.”
I left the office and went out to the beach. The good thing about being retired is that you can go out to the beach whenever. Other people work fifty weeks so they can go out to the beach for two.
Perhaps I couldn’t stand to be a deacon if I couldn’t go out to the beach whenever. Being a deacon takes a whole world-full of standing in the face of sin. And praying—and I’m not that good at praying.
It was cooler at the beach. The wind was off the ocean. The cool wind had driven some of the vacationers off the beach. The tide was low. I could walk out across the long sandbar all the way to the rocky islet at its other end.
My left knee was hurting that day, and I couldn’t seem to get my back quite straight, so it hurt, too.
“Maybe it’s the suicide,” my wife suggested when I complained that morning. “You should rest.”
“I can’t rest.”
“You’re all tense.”
“Thank you, I know. But I can’t rest. I need to go see Pastor.”
I climbed to the top of the rocky islet. There’s a place I’ve found on the seaward side of the islet where I can settle in among the boulders almost as though I were settling into an easy chair, so comfortably shaped the place is.
Fifty feet above the crash of the surf. Looking seaward. Nothing beyond me but open ocean with, that afternoon, three boats sailing far out, making their way southwestward toward the big commercial harbor miles and miles away.
I’m alone there. There’s no muddle.
But, yes, there’s sin.
There is one man-made device on that islet. It is a small monument cemented into the rock at the islet’s top, about eighteen inches high, commemorating the drowning of a freshman from a local college, at that spot, forty years before.
In deepest winter, I go regularly to my granite easy chair, at night, when the tide is low enough that I can walk out there, the colder the wind the better. During all of my nighttime winter visits to my islet, I have never seen another human being.
Once, during the previous winter, when I knew the tide was rising, and being aware that I had better rise, too, from my easy chair and climb over the islet’s top and descend down to the sandbar in order to cross it back to the beach—before I should need, dangerously, to wade—I discovered that the wind had shifted from onshore. Now, it blew stiffly offshore.
A sliver of moon was just then rising, casting the merest of light. When I reached the sandbar, a flicker of movement in the sky caught my eye and then it was gone.
I looked again, and there was that flicker once more. And then, again, it was gone.
My third flicker lasted an instant longer than the others had done—a circumflex jigging against the night sky, just merely illumined by the moon—then gone.
What was it? Something was kiting through the night sky fifty feet above the beach.
And then I saw him, flickering in and out of view like his parasail above him. It was a man all clothed in tight black, flying the sail, arms widened to guide it with his lines, skiing across the sand.
Now and then, the force of the wind in this sail lifted him bodily off the sand entirely, and he was flying in an upright position through the night, only to come down again, to land on his heels in the sand, to ski another ten yards, and then, again, to be dragged into the sky.
I had a doppelgänger!
There are more than one of us!
My man had not seen me—I was dark against the rocks of the islet. I watched my man ski sand, and then he packed up and was gone.
I was glad to know that there are more than one of us. My secret sharer was a sharer so much in love with the night and with the wind and with the sea that he and I were, for that moment, one.
Our oneness was like an invitation from the Lord. “Come to me in your fallen world, and I will set each of you free—to soar.”
I remembered my sharer that day after talking with my pastor.
If needed, could I help my devastated man to fly even a little bit above his why, why, why into the sequence of no, maybe, yes?
Could I, even as a baby deacon?
Richard Eberhart, my father, was a poet. He lived with words. He was compelled to resolve mankind’s dual nature—devil and angel, as he frequently diagnosed our nature—and to ease our deepest hurts, with words. He sang of our dual nature, and of our deepest hurts, as a troubadour might have done in medieval times, or as a romantic might have done two hundred years ago.
Poems are like veils. A veil obscures actual, raw experience—a woman’s face, for example—and it produces in the observer an ideal view of that face. In actuality, the woman may have blemishes, but her observer who sees her through her veil does not observe her blemishes. Her observer sees the ideal. Therefore, the veil obscures what is behind it, but also the veil idealizes what is behind it at the same time; makes it finer.
All of us live in the raw experience of life. That is to say, we already know what life’s blemishes are; they are the rawness of our raw experience.
But when we view the raw experience through the veil, we experience it as it ought to be. If poets with their words put veils across the face of raw experience, then we who read their words are encouraged to grasp what is greater—or more true, or more beautiful—than what we already know.
Here is what I believe is true about of our human souls, a truth of how we are designed. I believe our souls are designed so that we yearn to know what is beyond our limited human knowing. Art—the poems, the veils—helps us with that. That is why art works for us. That is why poetry works for us. By art, we are taken beyond our limitations and shown a new perspective which validates how raw experience ought to be perceived by us.
Art allows us ought.
What about Scripture? Scripture, too, is a veil. It filters the absolute truth and the absolute light coming to us from God. Our souls are created to yearn toward that truth and toward its light. We yearn toward that truth and its light, but the veil is important because, if we should perceive God’s truth and light directly, we would die. God tells us this Himself. “I will make all my goodness pass before you,” God says, “But you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” (Exodus 33:19-20 ESV)
God is the supreme poet of the universe. Another poet, Emily Dickenson, said this same thing, with admirable sparseness.
Tell the Truth but tell it slant--
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.
In my life circumstance, I grew among hundreds of writers, particularly poets, who trooped all the time through our house brandishing their manuscripts to interest my father. I listened with intensity to them and to their own fascination with their own voices.
What, really, were they saying? What did their veils obscure? Were they avatars of absolute truth and absolute light and yet dazzled gradually, so we should not be blind?
Of one thing I became convinced. Art is a great effort. It is plain hard work.
I was profoundly moved that those poets and other artists are creators out of nothing. As is the case with all writers, my father was doomed to begin with a blank page. A blank page is not an easy challenge for a human.
Our perfect Father creates out of nothing, too. But imagine the joyfulness of his loving creative task. His blank page is no paper, indeed. He begins with a blank universe, and, unlike poor Dad, He never needs to rewrite!