I’ve been keeping a journal for a while now—two years on Saturday, actually. It’s a bound notebook that my friend Heidi decorated for me sophomore year and every day I write two lines in it about what I did, what I saw, what happened. I do it, I suppose, so that I can read and remember. For example, the entry for October 27, 2011 reads, “Am Lit midterm – sweater over flannel – Bible Study – felt better about tenure.” I don’t usually write about what I wear, but apparently it felt important to me that day, and not that this will clear things up much, but one of the entries the day before had been “cried about tenure.” Whatever that means. The next October 27th was a bit more even-keeled: “cleaned at JB’s – lazy afternoon – Lunch w/ Lu – did no homework whatsoever.” That was a Saturday and this year the 27th was a Sunday: “Quiet morning – coding w/ John in early aft. – early church – All Saints Vespers – just a Sunday : ).”
I’ve never been successful at keeping a journal before, but this seems to be sticking. I like lists, and keeping track, and knowing what happened when and how, and reading over and watching old worries grow and then fade back into oblivion. I’m a record-keeper.
I’m not alone. Here’s a favorite to-do list by Johnny Cash himself:
I’m willing to bet he did real good on all those things, except that last one. I think we keep these lists because we figure if we know all these little things, if we have it all stored up, when the time comes we’ll be able to see the big important things better somehow.
I’d been thinking about that and then Sunday night I went to the All Saints Vespers and thought about it some more. I thought about keeping track for not just two years of college, but through long centuries, through so many lives and deaths and prayers and graces. Christina Rossetti promises her hesitant audience, “Yea, beds for all who come,” and that’s a lot of beds. Really, though, beds for Christina herself, Jonathan Edwards, Eric Liddell, my Grandpa, Flannery O’Conner, Joan of Arc, Aunt Jean from camp, Paul, Corrie Ten Boom, Tolkien, Rahab, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Gerard Manley Hopkins…“all saints” is a lot of saints. Why do we keep track?
Well, because on Sunday evening I kneel with brothers and sisters of mine and pray aloud to Him “whose nature is always to have mercy.” We’re all members of the marvelously sprawling society of the previously lost and we must stick together, so as to remember what it means to be found. We know the taste of grace, and when we forget it those around us and before us will remember. “But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and His righteousness to children’s children…” (Psalm 103:17) The work of the cross stretches farther than you or I can see.
So all the scribbles and notes and records of practicing and cleaning and lunches had and walks taken are an anchor till the “yet more glorious day.” I will keep marking things down in homage to those who did so before me. Around the turn of the fifteenth century a woman named Julian of Norwich wrote in the midst of illness, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” Everyone from T.S. Eliot to my own mother has read and believed her words. I don’t know if they’ll get nearly as much from me, but I’m trying. I’m making lists, keeping track.