A SIMPLE POINT
Once talk became a way of sizing up
another’s spiritual condition; once
a word or phrase had countless implications,
too many, really, to decide how best
to make a simple point; once nothing said
could find a sympathetic ear; I walked
outside into the leaf-anointed air
to wander calmly in my dereliction,
pardoned by moonlight glinting off barbed wire
along the back fencerow, where cattle lowing
reminded me how Papaw calling out
could bring the herd toward him. I grabbed
the fence, familiar leg-kick up and over.
Mute, drawn back, I walked old paths,
Is it possible to “siz[e] up/another’s spiritual condition”? I suppose we all make the attempt from time to time, me included. I believe in the fallibility of the human mind, so I prefer to think I am more likely to be wrong than to be right. Said another way, I lean toward the benefit of the doubt rather than toward certainty. Sometimes certainty takes us far off the path; leaves us lost; reveals our deeper, self-serving motives. I love those instances in the Bible where Jesus discerns the motives of people’s hearts as they ask him questions intended to gain the upper hand or to ignore a central truth. The
Parable of the Good Samaritan, for instance, is Jesus’ response to an earlier question (“Who is my neighbor?”), which is asked because "the expert in the law" is seeking to "justify himself." Jesus' answer seems to be that our neighbor is anyone we would purposefully avoid, anyone we would go out of our way not to help.
More than one person, because I raised a question about something he or she had already decided upon—especially where politics and religion mingle—has questioned the state of my soul, i.e. whether or not I am a Christian. I’ve been told, “I am praying for you.” I could just as easily have said the same thing to him, to her, but what would I first have to assume/presume about him, about her, about what qualifies as a speck, about what qualifies as a log? How blind are we really? Mostly, I would say, and then on other days almost entirely. Apparently, politics (at least narrowed to something manageable) has now become a measurement of faith (likewise narrowed to something manageable). Usually, in such situations, I cannot fail such a purity test fast enough. I have no interest in defending myself—I concede, I turn the other cheek, I give my cloak too.
In an earlier age, Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” stated, “Look around you—all you see are sympathetic eyes.” I’ve never known whether to take that lyric as true or not. I’d like for there to be sympathy, but I’m not so sure it exists in sufficient degree anymore. A sense of common feeling seems absent in our conversations and particularly absent in our politics and sometimes even in our faith. Gaining the upper hand, what is sometimes referred to as “owning the narrative,” pollutes civility, friendships, pews. My collection is titled Restoring the Narrative for this reason, and the last section, “Morning Porch,” aims to listen toward a voice not my own, not anyone else's either, to see what I might have overlooked, to discern whether life’s passage is merely entertainment or instruction. Deep down I have this suspicion that if my interpretation confirms what I already believe, then I’m probably not believing the right thing to begin with. “Did I watch attentively,” I ask, “as one is wont to do who seeks an answer/believing it will be revealed?” Maybe that’s what’s wrong with certainty: too often it arises out of self-serving motives instead of out of revelation.
Thus the need to get away, to go off alone, to walk “outside into the leaf-anointed air.” Jesus was always going off alone to pray, to get away from the crowd. Against the “talk” of the poem’s first line, I choose the “mute” of the last line. Walking old paths, revisiting my roots, I am “born again,” renewed, given a new mind, refreshed, anointed. I’m also reminded—despite anyone else’s opinion on the matter—that I am “born again,” having been brought up out of a horrible pit, my feet placed upon a rock, a new song in my mouth.
With no desire to prove anything to anyone, I’m never happier than when I am wandering “in my dereliction,” waiting patiently on the Lord. Like my Papaw’s cattle moving toward his voice, I know the voice calling me.
And I go.