[Ye old Macbook has been a little under the weather lately, but we laid hands on her this a.m. and she's back up and running just fine. Thanks for your patience. The break probably did us all good, eh?]
Gospel musicians used to shout out certain words when they felt inexpressibles touching, maybe hallelujah, or amen, which literally means simply, “It is so.” These were magic words once, both of them. Then people learned to shout them when they weren’t feeling anything in particular, and the words took revenge by becoming hokey as hell.
- David James Duncan, River Teeth
My son told me of a classmate who draws crosses all over her notebooks. Of course, if you turn her notebook 45 degrees, you have Xs, and a 90 degree turn results in hundreds of swords. He also said that she recently took a Sharpie and crossed out the word "you" and inserted the word "God" on an Earth Day poster, so that now it reads: God can make a tree. His summation? “It’s great that she’s a believer, Dad, but it’s a little much (hokey), don’t you think?” I said, “Amen,” which literally means simply, “It is so.”
Once upon a time, a traveling evangelist stopped traveling long enough to speak and sing for a week at the church of my youth. He was also an avid tennis player. After evangelizing our flock one night, he invited a few sheep to the courts for a night-match. I, being the preacher’s son, was among the chosen few. I have to admit, the man was a good tennis player. However, after every shot he made that furthered his score, which ended up being an astronomical number, he shouted “Praise the Lord!” I kid you not, after every shot, “Praise the Lord!” From that point on, I thought the traveling evangelist to be hokey as hell.
I’m going to roll the dice here and say that in both of those examples, the classmate and the traveling evangelistennis player were not feeling inexpressibles touching. In fact, they quite possibly may not have been feeling anything in particular at all. Shouting or Sharpie-ing words that had/have taken their magic and gone home.
Many people, religious or not, are familiar with the story of the prodigal son. Many people, religious or not, are living the story of the prodigal son. There is a watershed moment in the parable when, as the text reads, "he came to his senses." In that moment, he realizes where he is (hog pen), what he’s eating (hog slop), and what he’s become (a hog). And when his senses kick in, or he begins to feel things in particular, he decides to hightail it for where he was (home), what he had (everything), and what he was (a beloved son). Before he reached the ponderosa, his father, from a long way off, saw him and girded up his loins and ran and embraced his prodigal; two inexpressibles touching, hugging, laughing. I want to believe that the father couldn’t stop repeating, “Amen,” which literally means simply, “It is so.” A moment bathed in magic Disney knows not of.
Many people, religious and super-religious, try and make that he-came-to-his-senses-moment into something spiritual; something that bypasses feeling altogether and goes straight for the spirit. There are a few people - gypsies, tramps, thieves, preacher’s sons, and prodigals - who see a young fool whose knob was stuck on numb suddenly being able to literally feel particulars again; coming back to himself, which is usually the only way we ever truly come back home. I’ve no doubt that something happened in his spirit, but it happened first in his eyes, ears, and don’t forget the nose.
We live in a world awash in the magic of God. But many of us, armed with Sharpies and tennis rackets, settle for hokey as hell. It doesn’t make any sense.
Amen. It is so.