“I Am Being Read By What I Am Made Of”
Yesterday was one of those delightful brown-parcel-in-the-mail days—one of those days when the good and kind people of Canada Post come bearing glorious gifts from afar, gifts of crisp, unblemished pages, gifts brimming with fresh insights and exciting tales, gifts of possibility, hope, and promise, gifts of delight and discovery… Gifts of words.
Or, to put things a bit less dramatically, “I got a new book yesterday.” :)
Truth be told, I wasn’t as excited about yesterday’s arrival as I was about others over the past few months. Francis Spufford’s Unapologetic had been dimly on my radar for a while, but I was only mildly interested in another book written to defend Christianity against the angry wave of atheism that has been lapping up against the shores of belief over the last decade or so. Based on conversations with others, I had a pretty good idea what I might expect from this book. A humorous, deliciously irreverent and, well, kinda grouchy defense of the faith in the face of its many gleeful detractors. And, based on the first seventy or so odd pages, I think my expectations have mostly been met.
What I was not expecting was to come across a few passages where the quality of writing and the depth of spiritual/psychological insight nearly took my breath away.
I’ve been spending time in the Psalms lately, including Psalm 139—this beautiful portrayal of the inescapability of God (Where can I go from your Spirit?… If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there…). Francis Spufford’s description of the sense he got one day in the quiet of an old English church, that there was something behind, around, under, and within the ordinary events and processes of everyday life seems to me a powerful, sobering, and ultimately profoundly comforting retelling of this marvelous Psalm:
On one level, I can feel that this is absolutely safe. A parent’s safe hold is nothing compared to this. I’m being carried on the universe’s shoulder. But on another level, it’s terrifying… This is utterly exposed. And while it may be safe, it is not kind in one of the primary ways in which human beings set about being kind to each other.
It takes no account, at all, of my illusions about myself. It lays me out, rootfless, wall-less, worse than naked. It knows where my kindness comes chequered with secret cruelties or mockeries. It knows where my love comes with reservations. It knows where I hate, and fear, and despise. It knows what I indulge in. It knows what parasitic colonies of habit I have allowed to form in me. It knows the best of me, which may well be not what I am proud of, and the worst of me, which is not what it has occurred to me to be ashamed of. It knows what I have forgotten.
It knows all this, and it shines at me. In fact, it never stops shining. It is continuous, this attention it pays. I cannot make it turn away.
Or, to put it more simply, how about this beautiful line from the same chapter:
I am being seen from behind, beneath, beyond. I am being read by what I am made of.