Monday, July 16, 2012

Jayber Crow (Part II)

I already posted some of my favorite quotes from the book, but there's a few more, specifically about faith and spirituality, among other things, that I want to save for potential future use. This seems like a great way to do that - and also share them with anyone who might be interested. As before, Port Williams is the small town in the center of the book.

From Chapter 13

What I couldn't bring together or reconcile in my mind was the thought of Port William and the thought of the war. Port William, I thought, had not caused the war. Port William makes quarrels, and now and again a fight; it does not make war. It takes power, leadership, great talent, perhaps genius, and much money to make a war. In war, as maybe even in politics, Port William has to suffer what it didn't make. I have pondered for years and I still can't connect Port William and war except by death and suffering. No more can I think of Port William and the United States in the same thought. A nation is an idea, and Port William is not. Maybe there is no live connection between a little place and a big idea. I think there is not.

Did I think that the great organizations of the world could love their enemies? I did not. I didn't think great organizations could love anything. Did I think anybody would live longer by loving his enemies? Did I think those who were going to die could stay alive by loving their enemies I did not.

Was this a good war? I knew that it could not be good. Was it avoidable? I don't know.

I might have become a conscientious objector if I had had more confidence in myself. I certainly did think that 'love your enemies' was an improvement over all the other possibilities, but getting to be a conscientious objector required 'sincerity of belief in religious teaching.' Was 'love your enemies' a religious teaching just because Jesus said it? Or did it have to be taught by a church? I was not a Quaker. So far as I knew, I had never even seen a Quaker. And suppose you got to be a conscientious objector: What do you do next? Next, I supposed, you left Port William, whose young men who were not conscientious objectors would be getting hurt and killed. I had a conscientious objection to making an exemption of myself. As had happened before, my mind was failing me; I couldn't think my way all the way through. As I saw it, I had two choices: to fight in a war and maybe kill people I wasn't even mad at and who were no more to blame than I was, or take an exemption that I really didn't believe was right either and couldn't believe I was worthy of. I couldn't imagine what lay beyond either choice.

What decided me, I think, was that I could no longer imagine a life for myself beyond Port William. I thought, 'I will have to share the fate of this place. Whatever happens to Port William must happen to me.'

From Chapter 23:

Prayer is like laying awake at night, afraid, with your head under the cover, hearing only the beating of your own heart. It is like a bird that has blundered down the flue and is caught indoors and flutters at the windowpanes. It is like standing a long time on a cold day, knocking at a shut door.

But sometimes a prayer comes that you have not thought to pray, yet suddenly there it is and you pray it. Sometimes you just trustfully and easily pass into the other world of sleep. Sometimes the bird finds that what looks like an opening is an opening, and it flies away. Sometimes the shut door opens and you go through it into the same world you were in before, in which you belong as you did not before.

From Chapter 26:

Christ did not descend from the cross except into the grave. And why not otherwise? Wouldn't it have put fine comical expressions on the faces of the scribes and the chief priests and the soldiers if at that moment He had come down in power and glory? Why didn't He do it? Why hasn't He done it at any one of a thousand good times between then and now?

I knew the answer. I knew it a long time before I could admit it, for all the suffering of the world is in it. He didn't, He hasn't, because from the moment He did, He would be the absolute tyrant of the world and we would be His slaves. Even those who hated Him and hated one another and hated their own souls would have to believe in Him then. From that moment the possibility that we might be bound to Him and He to us and us to one another by love forever would be ended.

And so, I thought, He must forebear to reveal His power and glory by presenting Himself as Himself, and must be present only in the ordinary miracle of the existence of His creatures. Those who wish to see Him must see Him in the poor, the hungry, the hurt, the wordless creatures, the groaning and travailing beautiful world.

From Chapter 29:

I am, maybe, the ultimate Protestant, the man at the end of the Protestant road, for as I have read the Gospels over the years, the belief has grown in me that Christ did not come to found an organized religion but came instead to found an unorganized one. He seems to have come to carry religion out of the temples into the fields and sheep pastures, onto the roadsides and the banks of rivers, into the houses of sinners and publicans, into the town and the wilderness, toward the membership of all that is here.

From Chapter 32:

Faith is not necessarily, or not soon, a resting place. Faith puts you out on a wide river in a little boat, in the fog, in the dark. Even a man of faith knows that we've all got to go through enough to kill us. As a man of faith, I've thought a considerable amount about a friend of mine (imagined, but also real) I call the Man in the Well.

The now wooded, or rewooded, slopes and hollows hereabouts are strewn with abandoned homesteads, the remains of another kind of world. Most of them by now have no buildings left. Everything about them that would rot has rotted. What you find now in those places when you come upon them are the things that were built of stone: foundations, cellars, chimneys, wells. Sometimes the wells are deep, dug to the bedrock and beyond, and walled with rock laid up without mortar. Virtually every rock in a structure like that, if it is built right, is a keystone; it can't move in or out. Those walls, laid underground where there is no freezing and thawing, will last, I guess, almost forever.

Sometimes the well is the only structure remaining, and there will be no visible sign of it. It will be covered with old boards in some stage of decay, green with moss or covered with leaves. It is a perfect trap, and now and then you find rabbits and groundhogs have blundered in and drowned. A man too could blunder into one.

Imagine a hunter, somebody from a city some distance away, who has a job he doesn't like, and who has come alone out into the country to hunt on a Saturday. It is a beautiful, perfect fall day, and the Man feels free. He has left all his constraints and worries and fears behind. Nobody knows where he is. Anybody who wanted to complain or accuse or collect a debt could not find him. The morning that started frosty has grown warm. The sky seems to give its luster to everything in the world. The Man feels strong and fine. His gun lies ready in the crook of his arm, though he really doesn't care whether he finds game or not. He has a sandwich and a candy bar in his coat pocket. And then, not looking where he is going, which is easy enough on such a day, he steps onto the rotten boards that cover one of those old wells, and down he goes.

He disappears suddenly out of the lighted world. He falls so quickly that he doesn't have time even to ask what is happening. He hits water, goes under, comes up, swims, or clings to the wall, inserting his fingers between the rocks. And now, I think, you cannot help imagining the way it would be with him. He looks up and sees how far down he has come. The sky that was so large and reassuring only seconds ago is now just a small blue picture of itself, far away. His first thought is that he is alone, that nobody knows where he is; these two great pleasures that were his freedom have now become his prison, perhaps his tomb. He calls out (for might not somebody chance to be nearby, just as he chanced to fall into the well?) and he hears himself enclosed within the sound of his own calling voice.

How does the story end? Does he save himself? Is he athletic enough, maybe, to get his boots off and climb out, clawing with his fingers and toes into the grudging holds between the rocks of the wall? Does he climb up and fall back? Does somebody, in fact, for a wonder, chance to pass nearby and hear him? Does he despair, give up, and drown? Does he, despairing, pray finally the first true prayer of his life?

Listen. There is a light that includes our darkness, a day that shines down even on the clouds. A man of faith believes that the Man in the Well is not lost. He does not believe easily or without pain, but he believes it. His belief is a kind of knowledge beyond any way of knowing. He believes that the child in the womb is not lost, nor is the man whose work has come to nothing, nor is the old woman forsaken in a nursing home in California. He believes that those who make their bed in Hell are not lost, or those who dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, or the lame man at Bethesda Pool, or Lazarus in the grave, or those who pray, 'Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani.'

No comments: