This morning I went running with my dog.
We followed a dirt road through a corn field alive with singing birds before turning onto a path that winds through a stand of mature oaks and maples. Turning, we followed the same path and road back to where we began and then sprinted a final stretch beside a field filled with horses grazing in heavy mist not yet burned off by the sun. I returned home to find a house still mostly asleep. My two-year-old daughter came downstairs, and I provided her with cereal and bananas. While she ate, I sat in the early morning sunlight streaming into my living room and read the New Testament. Finished with her meal, my daughter sought me out and began happily playing with a cloth bag while I read Paul. Half way through the Epistle to the Romans I looked up to see a little figure before me, head covered with a cloth sack from which escaped delighted giggles. Setting aside the scriptures, I held and wrestled my laughing child until the house finally awoke to the new day.
Every so often I will examine the well springs of my belief. I search not for the reasons and justifications for what I hope and believe, although I am happy to offer such if asked. Rather, I try to grasp what is at the heart of my experience of God. I can push back rapidly to the joy of personal devotion: prayer, revelation, and the smell of paper and leather from the scriptures. I can capture in my mind the feeling beyond friendship — and sometimes even in its absence — of fellowship with the saints and their foibles and efforts to do God’s work. Beyond these, however, I find a deep sense of gratitude for the world. The beauty of sun, mist, dog, tree, corn, bird song, wife, and child seem so utterly gratuitous and excessive in their loveliness, beyond what I might ever reasonably expect from an indifferent universe. Reading Paul on justification, dodging the Calvinism that lurks within his lines and listening to two-year chatter over bananas and cereal, grace was experienced not as the tripartite relationship of soul, sin, and God, but rather as the gift of a world of great preciousness to an unworthy man.
You forgot to say that your wife is hot.
A beautiful post. Sometimes I’m hesitant to acknowledge publicly how wonderful and blessed my life truly is, perhaps because of fear of causing pain to others who seem less fortunate. I’m not speaking of economics, but of those graces that “so fully” are proffered me, such as those you have captured here so well.
I’m recognizing, unfortunately, that sometimes I hold back from this kind of open acknowledgment of truly amazing grace out of the realization and fear that tragedy can strike at any time and things can change so quickly. I suppose I need to recognize that even then, faith should conquer fear. And I suspect I can learn more from the perspectives of others, such as John Adams, who still loved life despite the pain and uncertainties. He once wrote: “Griefs upon griefs! Disappointments upon disappointments. What then? This is a gay, merry world notwithstanding.”
…and my wife is hot.
A timely post. And well-written. Thanks for this.
Just last night, I was thinking about this issue. We spent last weekend camping in the hills. I was reminded that for me, the mountains/wilderness/nature represent a very solitary and lonely experience. The beauty is overwhelming, but so is the stark reality that we are puny compared to God’s natural creations. I feel drawn to that beauty, but I also inevitably feel drawn back to people, society, to kin. I wonder if Nate would have felt the same sense of the divine had he returned home to an empty house?
Beautiful post and so satisfying a read. I know I far too often fail to appreciate experiences such as these for their simple beauty and for the mark of the divine they leave on my life. Thank you, Nate.
That said, I do struggle to fully see such moments as evidence of an ultimate Good in the Universe when I contrast them with equally powerful moments of such complete grief, confusion and emptiness. I don’t mean to give impetus to another debate over the problem of evil, but it isn’t always easy for me to digest such experiences without the creeping and haunting questions that arise when I recall that not all mornings are so perfect.
Ahhh, life in Virginia.
CJ: Do you ever have the opposite reaction? In moments of misery and despair is the purity of your response ever haunted by gratitude for beauty given in other moments? These aren’t rhetorical questions. I certainly share your sense that even our experience of grace can be tinged and mixed. I have to say, however, that as I held a laughing two-year old face inches from mine this morning the experience was much simpler.
I wonder if moments of grace like that which I had this morning are simply an accident of aesthetics and endorphins. Perhaps, but the distancing of myself from the experience necessary to come to such a conclusion seems alienating and inauthentic. I would prefer to simply be grateful.
I can’t recall specific instances, but do have a vague recollection of dark moments in my past undergirded by a fundamental sense of order and rightness in the Universe. That’s long since departed, but I do recall those times when all the temporary disorder before me ultimately gave way in my heart and mind to a larger coherence of things. That order instilled peace, and with it, gratitude. To the degree I recognize the goodness and beauty of better times during the dark ones, though, it seems merely a mix of conflicting forces–and not the signature of divinity. I guess this merely raises a basic theological question, and I don’t necessarily mean to re-open that familiar can of worms, but that’s my experience.
I, of course, can’t doubt or speak to the simple moment you had with your two-year old this morning. You seem to say that in that moment there was no tinge of an other, no foreboding of an opposition. That certainly is magical, and something to be most grateful for. I particularly appreciate your recognition that all such experiences are capable (as are most things) of a deconstruction that to a degree would de-elevate it in the process–and that it’s your choice to leave it where it is: untouched on a high shelf, exalted and beautiful. I do think it’s most definitely a choice to do so–one I don’t know if I’ll ever be fully capable of making again.
If you were reading Romans in the NRSV I can get behind this. But if your morning nirvana was sullied by the KJV, I say a pox on your Virginian idyll.
Ronan: How any English speaker can speak ill of the KJV is beyond me. Even when the translation is incoherent the language is wonderful. Indeed, this morning I savored its use of the word “wot.” That said, I have both the NRSV and the NEB, which are particularly helpful when reading the really mangled bits of the KJV. Romans, I think, falls into that category.
Only former colonials pine for the olde worlde KJV, Nate. That’s Williamsburg talking.
(Loved the post, btw. You’ve made me want to enjoy a run along the river Soar in rural Leicestershire tomorrow.)
You can chalk-up affection for the KJV with other Williamsburg-induced vices like the enjoyment of Shakespeare and a fondness for extra “-e”s at the end of words…
There’s something to be said for nearly every station on the continuum from grittiest paraphrase to the time-honored KJV to even the Greek/Hebrew/Vulgate.
(( – Paul says to the Corinthians: “As you hang in patience with bloviators, for sure you are sharply perceptive!” (implying that his listeners therefore ought to listen to PAUL, too, in Paul’s high-toned yet sarcastic verbage).
(( – King James bible/English catchphrase: “For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise.”
(( – “Pleasantly, (?????) wherefore, (???) show patience with (????????) the (???) doubting/mindless/egotistic/rash (???????), (your being) more discreet/thoughtful (????????).”))
The question marks are Greek.
Thank you, Nate Oman. What a lovely post. Thank you.
Ooh, I hate extra “-e”s at the end of words! I will never live anywhere that has an extra “e!”
^ but I like the KJV, and your post Nate. Thank you.
(Sorry for the double post)
What I would like to know is what the “Judeo-proto-Calvinists” called themselves. Absolute divine sovereignty shows up in several places in the Old Testament as well, although I imagine it was much more current by Paul’s time.
Nate, some of my best days begin when I go running with my dog early in the morning. It seems to start the day out just right. Thanks for this post.
Heather O.: “You forgot to say that your wife is hot.”
Nate Oman: “… and my wife is hot.”
Oh, for goodness’ sake, Professor Oman! Shouldn’t your life be dedicated enough to your wife’s comfort and convenience that you’re at least willing to pony up the dough to have central air installed??!!! (I mean, I know you gave up being a slave to the Almighty Billable Hour at a High-Powered Firm for a not-as-handsomely-remunerated post in academia, and if you really can’t AFFORD it, I’ll be happy to make the first contribution to the “Cool-Mrs.-Oman-Down” Fund …)
Nicely said, Nate. Thanks for the post. Being sensitive to the grace which abounds all around us is a blessing, one to be treasured.
A 9.5 from the East German judge.
What? Nobody likes double-entendres, plays on words, or humor arising therefrom? Everybody thinks I’m dissin’ the no-doubt-incredibly-beautiful Mrs. Oman, or Professor Oman’s touching reverie? (Sorry if my attempt at humor was inappropriate, or if it fell flat for other reasons. You’ve all done what 99.9% of my fellow cyberspace denizens do, anyway: ignored my contribution(s) entirely. We now return you to your regularly-scheduled, no-doubt-more-appropriate, on-topic programming … ;-D)
This is so beautiful Nate.
(So is your wife. And the bag-child is pretty cute, too.)