I read Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men in junior high school. My reading of the book was followed by watching the movie version over several days in lit class, John Malkovich, Gary Sinise and all. By the mercy of God, the book was not banned by overzealous parents. That story is written on my heart to this day - the strange but tender relationship between George and Lennie; George as the supposed adult and Lennie as a child in a man’s overalls. George and Lennie were exiles, always moving from one job to another. They’d do pretty well until Lennie found a rabbit’s foot, a puppy’s tail, or a woman’s hair. His simple desire was just to touch something soft; the only problem was Lennie didn’t know when to let go. And death and hell always followed.
They'd then pack up and quickly move on until they found another ranch to work. And in due time, Lennie’s hands would once more dictate the movement of their feet. You kinda get this same song, second verse feel as you travel through Steinbeck’s classic. But something else always happens in the midst of the “here we go again” that invokes a pause, a Steinbeckian-selah. And it is in this pause that we are reminded that we too are exiles with a longing for home. And it bears repeating.
In the moments that follow the death of soft things, Lennie always asks George to tell about the rabbits. George always balks at the request, usually furiously frightened because of what has taken place, again. But Lennie continues to plead, in a seemingly commanding style. And the persistent widow wears down the judge. George begins to speak his words rhythmically as though he had said them many times before:
...Tell about how it’s gonna be.”
“O.K. Someday - we gonna get the jack together and we’re gonna
have a little house and a couple of acres an’ a cow and some pigs and - “
“An’ live off the fatta the lan’,” Lennie shouted. “An’ have rabbits.
Go on, George! Tell about what we’re gonna have in the garden and
about the rabbits in the cages and about the rain in the winter and the
stove, and how thick the cream is on the milk like you can hardly cut it.
Tell about that, George."
Sing them over again to me, wonderful words of life. Let me more of their beauty see, wonderful words of life.
If you don’t have your theological belt cinched up too tight, George describes a place that sounds a lot like heaven. At least it does to me. A mansion just over the hilltop or beyond Jordan's stormy banks. A land flowing with milk and honey. Or cream if you prefer.
This same gonna be story is repeated after each of Lennie’s transgressions. George sings over and over again these wonderful words of life and beauty to his fellow pilgrim with a childlike heart but childish hands. And each and every time they serve as a bridge over the troubled waters of a man’s soul. A balm in the gilead of fear and anxiety. A peaceful, easy feeling amidst the chaos of the moment. A smile always breaks over Lennie’s face, he leans in a little, and the song carries him along. One more time.
Evidently, there are people in this life who pull out of the clouds one day and fly the rest of their lives in the bright sunlight. Their theme song? Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before. To hear them talk, they’re following some sort of escalator-like holiness right up to the blessed gates. And then there are the rest of us, the anawim, the little ones, who do pull out of the clouds one day but seem to dip back down into them again after awhile. Our spiritual lives are not prosaic – in a straight line; they are poetic – full of ups and downs. There are glimpses of heaven on earth, foretastes of glory divine. And then there are months of the valley of the shadow of death.
St. Paul led a poetic life: “I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.” Romans 7.19-20 (The Message).
We have days or seasons of good work and good friendships and good marriage and then we grip too tight and won’t let go and we’re left with blood on our hands. Call it commission or omission, but it really doesn’t matter because the result is always the same: something or someone close to us gets hurt, sometimes ourselves. And either literally or figuratively, we have to pack our things and leave, scrambling. We are all Lennies and have fallen short of the glory of God.
And in the wake of the sin, we don’t need the voice of a robed judge. We know we’ve blown it. What we do need is the voice of somebody else in a robe, a friend from the choir; we need a George, on a 4/4 rhythm, to tell us how it’s gonna be. Even though we know it in our heads, we need someone to help us, in our fear and trembling, to sing out the song of our salvation. We need someone to help us recapture the cadences of the redeemed. The Bible has a Hebrew word - zakhor, to remember - it occurs more than a hundred times in Scripture. Our narrowness usually has us defining memory as pertaining only to those things in the past and not to those yet to come. But sometimes it’s good to be reminded of how it’s gonna be.
“Exiles take music seriously and they sing dangerously...The community of exiles sings new songs. If we listen to the singing, however, we discover that the new song is constituted by the same old words. The old words are recovered and reclaimed. Every song of exiles is a new singing of homecoming and possibility. The barren ones sing about the promised future.”
- Walter Brueggemann, Cadences of Home
So sing. Sing a song that reminds us there’s coming a day when we’ll inherit the little house prepared just for us and we won’t have to care for one another because the Father will take care of everything. About how we needn’t fear the rain for the stove will always be lit inside with the warmth of the ages. And about the cream thicker than knife blades; my lord. And don’t forget about the rabbits. But they’ll not be in cages, for the rabbits will lie down with the mice and the men. The peaceable kingdom. Everything made new. Beautiful. How it's gonna be.