My most favorite and maybe even most fearsome picture is one of the author Joan Didion. She’s standing on the upper decking of a beach house that sits nestled close to the ocean, cigarette in hand, as her daughter Quintana and husband, John, lean against the railing close together, lips lifted in small smiles.
The things that grab my heart like two hands: 1) Joan is looking at them, not the camera. 2) Several years later, Quintana and John will die two years apart and Joan will live to write about it.
Live to write about it.
I feel like I’m doing a lot of that now.
My favorite prophet is Jeremiah. This seems like a non-sequiter, but I promise, it isn’t. He’s tasked with a huge ask: to share God’s words condemning idolatry, the greed of priests, false prophets…
He was only a child. And his reluctance took flight like a bird in a closed fist.
I feel that feeling. It’s like looking around and everything being in it’s exact place, but you know something’s off because you simply can’t breathe.
It reminds me of what I read (okay fine, listened to) about C.S. Lewis. One of his biographers dubbed him a reluctant prophet because He was an atheist called to God, not some studied Biblical scholar who knew all the answers.
The thing about C.S. is that he acknowledged the answers were very few but the evidence palpable. We can see enough of the detail to make out the picture. Or we can choose to be blind. C.S. changed his entire paradigm for Jesus. He was also given a wife who died of cancer and he, too, lived to write about it.
And so he did. Because God asked him to. But he couldn’t swallow for awhile. Swallowing, breathing. Different steps to the same dance.
I am not saying I’m a prophet. I am saying there’s a message shoved deep, a small bundle of letters trapped between the rocks of my ribs. There are so many different colors about this place: the bright red that tastes like bile because I can’t go back. There’s a wall every time I turn around; a yellow nauseaous aura that consumes my mind when I first wake up and that feeling of everything being the same but everything being different when I breathe in air; the cold hard blue of truth that God is in control and anything I ever thought tasted like it was mere metal in my mouth.
If you need proof, God already gave it to Job (Job 38:1-18):
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings* shouted for joy?
‘Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb?—
when I made the clouds its garment,
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed bounds for it,
and set bars and doors,
and said, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stopped”?
‘Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
and the wicked be shaken out of it?
It is changed like clay under the seal,
and it is dyed* like a garment.
Light is withheld from the wicked,
and their uplifted arm is broken.
‘Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.
I sometimes wonder about that picture of Joan. I have a nonsensical thought, that maybe if she could have just looked up at the camera for one second, maybe the outcome would have been different. Maybe living and writing wouldn’t have been her only options.
But I know I’m a fool to think that, that she chose the better thing. To look at all God had given her (whether or not she knew that’s what she was doing), and to prolong that one moment before her worst nightmare became the only task God asked of her.
You take up your cross. You carry it. And God only knows to where you shall walk.