He points a finger at me, shakes it like a wand, like a prayer, like shaking me awake.
“I need to talk with you.”
Gordon’s on his tiptoes, looking for me through the lunch crowd, punctuating each word high in the air with his left pointer finger. “I’ve got a question for you.” He’s stabbing the air. I feel poked in the chest, pushed up against the back of my chair. I reach for water, something to wet a thick, scratchy throat.
A question? What kind of question? Why ask me a question? How can he ask anything of me — and think he’d get anything worthwhile?
I live in the curve of questions, sheltered under an arch of mystery, all my declarative periods couched with a questioning mark.
I know little and answers elude me and my world is wide expanses of wondering and seeking is the way I find my way. Gordon’s scanning to see if there’s an empty chair at my table.
He’s carrying his plate high, his lunch, a green salad, a pulled pork sandwich, baked beans. I lay down my fork, all those tines.
“But…” Can he hear me over this din? “I won’t have answers.”
Gordon’s lost for a moment in a sea of luncheoners. I murmur it to myself, to Gordon who can’t hear me, “I never have answers.” I have this knack for stating the blindingly obvious.
Sitting beside me is only going to disappoint — I feel guilty of false advertising — but Gordon’s already smiling, pulling out the straight back chair next to me.
“So…” Gordon sets down his plate, readies his fork for baked beans.
My stomach tightens, readied for the prongs of inquisition. He turns to me, his glasses slipping down his nose. He pushes them up with the back of his wrist. They are small round glasses, no inhibiting frame around the outer edges of the lenses, nothing blocking his line of view. Gordon turns towards me, asks his question quiet.
“This is what I want to know…How do you see God?”
He’s waving his fork in my direction.
How do I witness the face of Holiness? How does the invisible become visible to the naked eye — to my naked and ashamed soul?
How does the immaterial reality crack the fantasy of our daily material illusions? How do we find the door of the wardrobe, the way higher up, deeper in? Is that what’s he’s asking me?
I have no idea. None that I can clearly articulate.
How does one say how they daily see the Spirit? This is a way of the heart. I grope for words. Drag my fork tines through beans.
I distract. Answer question with a question. (A Jesus tactic, yes?) I do better with time and a keyboard. I drink water. My mouth is dry.
Gordon nods. He eats his pulled pork sandwich. I wave my own fork around in empty air, say something about this being what I am trying to figure out every day, tell him that every day I am writhing, wrestling Jacob who won’t let go of God until He blesses me — until He gives me eyes.
I answer that I don’t have answers for anyone. Only this story that I’m leaning into.
I remember leaving the lunch table blinded and disappointed. Living into the curve of the questions chaffed hard against the black.
I hadn’t known how pitiful my answers were until I had been asked to express them — how much I longed for even feeble answers. I can only imagine that Gordon felt worse.
For days afterwards, Gordon’s question rings me, haunts. Everywhere I look, in the piles in the laundry room sorting the grimy darks from the grimier lights, in the kitchen over sticking pots of soup, around a dinner table of kids bickering loud and tired, everywhere I struggle hard with the lithe Man in the dark, “Who are You? Show me Your face. How do I see You here?”
I do notice all that week that every time I bend over, my glasses fall off my face. I write down on my calendar to go to the optometrist. I have my contacts in the day we find the Chinese lanterns at the edge of the field.
I am not thinking of Gordon’s question as we pluck the papery orange globes.
I am not thinking of how to see God when I untangle the vines, snapping off a long string of dangling brilliance. I am not thinking of revelation as I peel back the orange sheath to the blazing seed sphere inside. The seed is soft.
It’s when I pick up a vine of browning lanterns and the flaming bead of orange inside a necklace of lanterns rattle. That’s when I think of it. That’s when I think of it only. That’s when I want to stammer out something to Gordon, something about this here.
I kneel down into the grass. The ground is cold. I finger one lantern hanging. It’s this: a delicate skeleton. It’s this: I can see right into the lantern.
It’s in the filigree of fracturing that I can see His flame. That I can see the light.
I remember Guatemala. I remember kids scrapping at the table. I remember, know, all my ugliness.
We see God when we let go. When we let go of the visible, papery skin that surrounds our moments, then we see the sacred jewel gleaming just underneath everything. I want to tell Gordon this.
When we cup the thinning, fragile places, the places worn right through, the dying and flaking away and hardly-holding-together-places, this is when we see the amber of Holiness.
Stripping away the sheath of self, this is how we see God. In a lace of brokenness, light dances with shadows.
We gather armfuls of the Chinese lanterns for vases for the middle of the kitchen table and I want more of dead ones with the blaze shining through. Gordon would understand. The way their rattle shakes me like a prayer.
Shakes my dead bones awake to light.
To His glowing heart within everything.
The Lord will be your everlasting light.
– Isaiah 60:20
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