A designation true and warm

Further to John Terpstra and his Skin Boat (see previous post)…

The book is about faith and church, about Christian things, so it might be assumed that the word Jesus would appear. But it doesn’t. Not so far, at least.

What Terpstra uses instead, where the name is required, is “the one who won us over.” Each time I read this, it’s a tiny surprise, to know who is meant and to recognize how this is true. And warm.

It fits the author’s story. The church of his growing-up was a solemn affair, hearing the Ten Commandments every Sunday, knowing guilt and the sentence of death, and yet, every Sunday too, “the congregation is… granted clemency.”

In reality, however, their sentence is only commuted until next week, when the same drama is repeated.

He had to attend, but he could not imagine, as a child, that he would ever “want to be here.”

But he heard the one who won him over replying to the religious leaders of his time about which law was most important.

He answered, Love G—d with all your heart, all your mind and all your strength, and your neighbour as yourself.

I thought: simple, straightforward; I can live with that.

It was the beginning of being won over.

It fits my story too, of a particular day, yesterday, May 6, in the year of our Lord etc. etc.  I’ve been busy this week, and the things I’ve been busy with, including writing and deadlines and a denominational committee assignment about which I can’t say any more except that it involves assessing a complicated conflict, have intensity about them, and the progress through that intensity has for various reasons needed some extra journalling and prayer. Which is good — the religious drama unfolding as it does between need and mercy. But the sense of my day reamined busy and intense. And then, in the evening, as if all of that slipped away or was clarified all at once – simplified really – came the reminder (though I mean this more as assurance than thought) of the Person at the heart of things. The name by which I knew him was a little different than the one Terpstra uses above, but just as true and warm: the one who drew me. 

And I was drawn close.


P.S. Further reading: a review of Skin Boat at ChristianWeek and an interview with John Terpstra at Image.

Untold stories

I’m enjoying Skin Boat: Acts of Faith and Other Navigations (Gaspereau Press, 2009), a book of poetic reflections by Canadian writer John Terpstra. His religious tradition is Dutch Calvinist, but for many years he and his wife have been attending a Presbyterian church, along with a variety of other religious refugees. He discovered that someone he’d been there with for some time was unaware of the circumstances described in his book, The Boys, namely the terminal disease and early deaths of his wife’s three brothers. Others, he thought, must have significant stories that were unknown as well. He contemplated writing a kind of Canterbury Tales, or something based on this line of the Tales at least: “this company of sundry folk, by adventure having fallen together into fellowship.”

However, the reluctant reaction of someone with whom he probed the idea led Terpstra to another angle on this situation. 

I thought: perhaps one of the reasons people come here in the first place is because no one knows their story and they do not have to tell it, or they may tell it selectively, if and when they choose.

I thought: perhaps these untold stories are still somehow subsumed into what is happening on a Sunday morning, and they do not need to tell, because it is already being told, simply by their bodily presence.

Most of us set great store in transparency, openness, and sharing, in the ideal of being known to one another. I like the window Terpstra opens here to something more realistic, like fostering a sense of safety first in the regular telling of a bigger story. It reminds me that while knowledge of one another may be important, knowledge is always trumped by love.