Concerning Explanations

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to Bobby Rogers

The rain this Sabbath is relentless and scouring —I’m tempted to say cleansing, expecting you’ll forgive the nod toward spiritual implication. As much as anyone, you understand how drenched we are in childhood sermons and King James narratives and doleful, earnest prayers that just as often verge toward the ridiculous. I’m not immune to hyperbolic sentimental bouts of bombast, but I’ll try my best to make a space for holiness and bow these thoughts toward a remembrance of how often I have come up empty in my explanations of the least regarded thing. Take the human eye, for example: we see through death, literally. Cells programmed to die move outward and form a thin protective layer over the cornea. Without them, we’d be blind. I take from this our cells confirm the words of Paul, that we should die to self. I tell my students that when we’re selfish, we go against these cells, risking blindness. Are such words hyperbolic enough? Maybe they are prayers disguised as poems, or maybe they are sermons, or maybe they are a remembrance of the men I’ve known who lived a servant-mindedness. One man placed his pocket change in coin returns. Another entertained the elderly in convalescent homes. Another wouldn’t use his grill until a nest of wren eggs hatched and flew away. And these examples, I’ll admit, sound hopelessly old-fashioned; but if I’m truthful, they have formed, as much as anything, the structure of my mind. I admire the simple risks they take. I hear in your voice, too, appreciation of the flawed attempts we make to wrestle from our lives a simple understanding, which more and more begins to sound far-fetched, as unlikely as a two grown men praying words across a page, believing they can be like cells at the edge of what we know—by which, and through which, we come to see holiness within this broken world.