The first night of my freshman year, I was lying in bed in the throes of homesickness when I heard the train whistle. “There’s a train two blocks from me at home.” I thought. “They have trains here, too!” And I went to sleep.
I came into this year sick to my stomach with fear, much more irregular fear than two years ago. And over the past week we’ve had thunderstorms. We never have thunder here. Thunder makes me think of home and summer evenings and my front porch and dinner soon and we-should-walk-in-the-gutter-like-when-we-were-kids. Thunder, like a train whistle, means comfort. And I’ve rejoiced in that.
Comfort is not bad. My corner is not bad. But Christianity is not intended to be cozy. When Christ said “Follow Me,” he did not preface it with “Come along, children, tea and scones at the next inn!” He said “Take up your cross and follow Me.”
We hear this and we fear and we hide. We don’t want to touch our cross, don’t want to think about what our cross may be, and don’t even try to make us carry it. It’s a dreadfully common fear. T.S. Eliot even put it into the mouth of the chorus, in their last speech in Murder in the Cathedral.
Forgive us, O Lord, we acknowledge ourselves as type of the common man,
Of the men and women who shut the door and sit by the fire;
Who fear the blessing of God, the loneliness of the night of God, the surrender required, the deprivation inflicted;
Who fear the injustice of men less than the justice of God;
Who fear the hand at the window, the fire in the thatch, the fist in the tavern, the push into the canal,
Less than we fear the love of God.
We acknowledge our sin, our trespass, our weakness, our fault:
(…) Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.
I cower by the fire behind the shut door, but that is not as I ought. Tonight at church, Ethan quoted St. Basil. “If you live alone whose feet will you wash?” Whose indeed? I am not called to serve myself, to obey my own frightened, sin-riddled demands.
So even if the crosses we bear and hang upon are the crosses of ourselves, as Whittaker Chambers would say, even if what hinders us is our self-made, self-inflicted, self-devouring fear, we are still to follow. His is the only heel that can crush that fear, though it may “hurt like billy-oh.”
We preface the Lord ’s Prayer with “Now as our Savior Christ has taught us, we are bold to say:” If I can call Him who made me my “Father, who art in heaven.” I can be bold to say and do so much else. I can stomp out the fire with a marshwiggle foot, open the shut door, and step out. The thunder is not only a comfort. It is a reminder, a call.