We leave the city, loaded down with groceries and the secondhand treasures that the kids cherish finding. It’s raining again, only slowly clearing off. Every day for a month, it’s rained. The worst of it moves east as we come up the Hill, turn past the Timmy’s and hit the highway heading west. Like life, that. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.
The clouds move in massive arcs across the sky, drawn in thick brushstrokes of dull, dark blue. The opaque depths overhead lose their heaviness. The light breaks through, a quiet epiphany somewhere ahead.
On the new asphalt, the water lies like a river. The road is a liquid ribbon, glistening in the late day’s belated resurrection, its curve a perfect echo of the band of cloud overhead. The green hills rise to the right. The plain that leads to the river valley rolls away to the left. Long, clear white rays reach down in the distance, setting a tumble of veiny billows alight.
The road comes around the hill and curves the other direction, its dark river now a counterpoint to the slowly spreading arc of cloud above. They meet at the horizon, slowly wending one way and then the other as I travel forward. This is perfect, though nothing else is.
We are tired, missing My Love. It’s been a crazy month. The youngest have become downright fragile. The oldest, unruly. And myself, just weary. I am doing this without my partner, holding it together without the cords that bind us to one another. He can’t be here, and I am the backbone, brittle and bent as I am. It’s not much of a one. No wonder we are ready to fail each other constantly. Sin crouches at the door, whispering that it’s easier to soldier on in side-by-side separation. Numbness holds no heartache. But for me, there is no heartache as torturous as that numbness.
Nonetheless, the prairie still is what it is. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night pours forth knowledge. I look, and I can almost hear its song, waiting in the wings. It’s soft, like woodwinds and a chorus of strings; wild, like the far call of horns. And it is not the only thing that sings in my heart.
Sometimes, in words upon a page, there’s a distant rumble like the deep, free voice of thunder, something that shakes a person though you can’t quite hear it. When I read, I know the author; and when I know an author, sometimes I fall in love. I did with him. He is so unconstrained, so different, the author of everything. He’s not the only one I know best through his book, not the only one whose heart is hidden to the world except for in his writing. The world is that way, rushing by without a glance.
He’s just the one I fell in love with. He taught me to see behind the words.
He is a shepherd walking, a peasant king like they used to be, back when the world was young and washed clean. He’s strong and certain. His steps are sure over rocky, close-shorn ground. There are others working within sight, unspeaking, hard-eyed, bent under burdens they hate. Their fields fight the plow, their crops are thin. Their money has been spent buying passing lies. They look at him with resentment, striding so free between the stony walls of their property lines.
He calls out. “Ho! Everyone who is thirsty, come to the waters! And you who have no money, come! Buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost! Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen to me and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance! Incline your ear and come to me. Listen, that you may live! And I will make an everlasting covenant with you, according to the faithful mercies shown to David!”
The name of an obsolete king and kingdom makes no sense to the ear. The labourers turn away, returning to their fruitless work. There are passing rewards for which they’ll go into debt when the day is done. Immediate, obvious things. Sweet, shortlived, ruining the appetite for good food and spoiling the temperament to boot.
But he doesn’t quit.
“Seek the Lord while He may be found! Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him. And to our God, for He will abundantly pardon!”
He walks right up to me, there in the pages he’s written for me to read. I see dimly through the looking glass. He stands there behind the words, leaning on his shepherd’s staff, and he smiles. It’s perfect–everything’s wrong, but this is perfect. He leans toward me, and his dark eyes sparkle, full of gentle humour. His voice is quiet and warm.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,” he says. “Nor are your ways my ways.”
A weight lifts off my heart. Thank God.
He looks up at this wide sky with its ever-shifting blue, and throws an arm upward, hand extended. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Thank God it’s so. Everything is wrong–but that’s just my opinion. There is so much more. He is relaxed, unafraid, full of easygoing patience. No rush. No worries.
There is music with him. I can’t quite hear it, but I can feel its rhythm. High flutes, deep drums, like the sounds of nations from times long gone and far away, all come to life again. There is a celebration coming somewhere behind him. I just can’t see it yet.
He sets his hands atop his staff, and his bearded chin on his hands. He smiles at me with that irrepressible twinkle. I know that if bad things were to come, that staff would become a club, and those hands would be weapons. They’ve defended me before. I know they will again. But right now, he’s full of joy. Because everything is right.
How can it be, when everything is wrong? And yet in the midst of storms, the fear falls away, and his peace is a wall within and around me.
“Will it be okay?” I whisper.
“Yes,” he says. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout–” he tilts his head wryly in the direction of the sour-faced labourers–“and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so will my word be which goes forth from my mouth. It will not return to me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”
Rains will come. They always do. Every day, this month. Like tears, or words on a page.
So here I am, on a road which is a river flowing skyward. And he’s with me. Waiting just behind the words, through a glass dimly. It’ll be okay. I can see it. He’s told me what will happen–he never gets tired of telling that story. I know why there’s an echo from far off, and that merriness in his eyes. I hear that rumble like thunder, deep and free, shaking the foundations of everything I thought I knew.
The shepherd straightens and walks on. I can see them coming behind him, pouring down over the hills like living streams. A dark river, a wending road in the wilderness. He tucks his staff beneath his arm, lifts a strange, ancient reed to his lips and plays a tune I can’t quite hear. He’s passing out of sight, but his flock is following.
For you will go out with joy
And be led forth with peace;
The mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you,
And all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
I have no trouble believing there will be new songs in heaven.