by Wendell Berry
Finally will it not be enough,
after much living, after
much love, after much dying
of those you have loved,
to sit on the porch near sundown
with your eyes simply open,
watching the wind shape the clouds
into the shape of clouds?
Even then you will remember
the history of love, shaped
in the shape of flesh, everchanging
as the clouds that pass, the blessed
yearning of body for body,
You will remember, watching
the clouds, the future of love.
Last night, some friends and I were speaking about the Eucharist (the Lord’s supper, Communion, Common Meal, etc.) over whiskey-and-gingers. Thinking back to our conversation, I was reflecting today on the persistent mystery of the Eucharist. And my unabated tendency to talk too much.
Afterward we drove to a downtown grocery store, listening to John McMillan’s choral piece “Seven Last Words from the Cross.”
We bought some juice, some flatbread. And we had a small service on the back of my car, around midnight.
The windows of the car down, we played Arvo Pärt’s “Spiegel im Spiegel” through the stereo, his meditation on the Trinity. The simple violin and piano competed with the hip hop blaring from other cars. It was beautiful how clearly the music sounded through as we partook: the body of Christ, broken for us. The blood of Christ, poured out for us.
The past few weeks, I’ve seen friends old and new, from so many different periods of my life. I saw a high school friend, a few friends from college, a friend from England, new friends.
I think I entered these encounters looking for some kind of sign to who I’ve been and who I’m becoming. To trace the path of my life, to scour it for some sort of key to myself. And I found no such key, and the questions that I have about my life and myself are like an unanswered grief. How could I have lived so long and still not know the things that I don’t know?
What I found in place of an answer, though, was hospitality.
Two friends from college sitting in my basement, showing a deep hospitality through their interest, their kindness, their love. I wrote of it to a friend: “I felt that they’d invited me in somewhere warm on a cold night, that they’d set a chair close to the wood stove where I could sit and listen to the melody of the wind, the music of low and loving voices.”
A high school friend helping me think through issues in a parking garage at 3am. Another college friend sharing his passion for the creative community of his city. Sharing a pipe and conversation with two friends on the river downtown, and more conversation by candlelight in my home.
Sitting on the porch with two new friends that I already cherish, sharing a love for pipes, scotch, poetry. And speaking that poetry, words we have known and loved well, into the night. Words that are small but have so much power. Words that bring joy and laughter, or that open up worlds of meaning within the silence.
Last night, in that parking lot, the four of us came to eat the meal that God offers us. We ate, and drank. And maybe Communion doesn’t provide us with answers to many of the questions that haunt us. But in it we find the presence of God. A deep and abiding hospitality.
I wonder if some part of Job was dissatisfied when God offered only His presence, a Creation described in terms of intimacy with its Creator, at the end of Job’s trials: no real explanation, no comfort. Or maybe Job was just wiser than me in the ways of a mysterious God. Which is not hard to imagine.
In the midst of dark trial, I know I have looked at what God has offered and thought, “It is not enough.”
But then, sometimes, astoundingly, in those same dark places, it is enough.
God’s presence, and the remembrance of His presence, may be dramatic and awe-inspiring in such moments. Or they may come on quietly, as when Elijah heard the quiet whisper of the presence of God.
But in that moment, either can seem like nothing less than an invitation to eat and drink at an extravagant table.