I was in Spain from last Saturday until Thursday – in Catalunya, actually: Barcelona, Banyoles, and Platja d’Aro. We had an all-Europe Young Life conference, and I got to be the final speaker on Thursday morning. I talked about my struggle to hear the voice of God that says “I love you.” We were celebrating communion to end our time together, so I combined communion and hearing God’s voice by borrowing a bit from Henri Nouwen’s book “Life of the Beloved.” In that book Nouwen talks about the spiritual life as one where we gradually grow in our ability to hear the voice that tells us we are loved, and then says the life of the beloved is marked by the same movement as when Jesus takes bread at the Last Supper; that like the bread we also are taken (or chosen), blessed, broken, and given.
I want to tell you the story I used for “broken,” and some more thoughts I’ve been having about it.
A couple of weeks ago when we drove from Grand Rapids to Chicago O’Hare for our flight back here, I found a great radio station on the rental car’s XM radio. It was a station that played folk rock songs from the 1970s. I spent that decade going through junior high, high school and college, so the popular music of the 70s connects with some pretty deep places inside of me. I heard songs that I love that have more or less disappeared from other radio stations – songs by Harry Chapin, Elton John, James Taylor, Carole King, Jim Croce, Linda Ronstadt, and many others. I was having a great time listening to these songs until they played the single most heartbreaking song from the 1970s – Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” That song always gets to me – the story of 29 men dying in a Lake Superior shipwreck is sad enough, but Gordon Lightfoot’s voice and the haunting melody of the song do me in. He has a line where the cook comes in and says, “Fellas, it’s too rough to feed you” and then the cook comes back and says, “Fellas, it’s been good to know you.” He sings about how the ship would have been safe if it had put only 15 more miles behind her, and that all that remains are the wives and the sons and the daughters. But the most devastating line to me is simply this, “Does anyone know where the love of God goes?”
I rode along I-94 in Indiana crying for about ten miles after that. My family has learned that’s just the way I am, and they gave me a Kleenex and time and space to be in my own little world of grief.
There is no satisfying answer to his question about God’s love in the midst of human suffering. If there were an answer, we’d all know it by now.
Does anyone know where the love of God goes when something terrible happens? This makes me think of Haiti right now, and my reaction to the tragedy there. I don’t know if you are like me, but I find it terribly difficult to want to read or watch the coverage of the disaster in Haiti. I’ve been asking myself this question lately: “Why is it easier for me to feel the weight of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald than the disaster in Haiti?” It’s like I can get my mind around the loss of 29 men much easier than I can get my mind around devastation that affects millions. I’ve been thinking of a line I read in Amsterdam at the Anne Frank museum – that one Anne Frank is easier for people to understand than the totality of the Holocaust. It is easier for us to hear and understand the horror of Anne Frank’s story than to try to imagine the suffering of six million people.
I’ve also been thinking this – while millions suffer in Haiti the rest of us go on about our lives unchanged. I spent a few days last week in a hotel room with an incredible view through some palm trees of the Mediterranean. I ate paella and had good Spanish wine and tapas and life was good. It was very, very comfortable. The world has been incredible rearranged for one country while life goes on for the rest of us. Isn’t that also a reality that is undeniable but somehow patently unfair?
A quarter century ago, after the ceremony on the day that Gretchen and I got married we got into a car to ride to the reception. We pulled out away from the church and as we rode down the street I saw a guy I went to seminary with named Hank mowing his lawn. There was this surreal juxtaposition there – my life had just changed forever while life went on unchanged for Hank. He can’t tell you what he was doing in the late afternoon on August 23rd, 1985, but I can. Hank would have to take my word that he was mowing the lawn.
I’m just trying to put this together and don’t know if I need to any more than this. While one of us sits by the ocean under a palm tree, another’s life turns in a direction that they never imagined, and I wonder if there is any connection between the two. That’s what I’ve been musing about on this Saturday morning.