Two Quotes, One Book

1. It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on the poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance – for a moment or a year or the span of life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light. That is what I said in the Pentecost sermon. I have reflected on that sermon, and there is some truth in it. But the Lord is more constant and far more extravagant than it seems to imply. Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it?

2. There are two occasions when the sacred beauty of Creation becomes dazzlingly apparent, and they occur together. One is when we feel our mortal insufficiency to the world, and the other is when we feel the world’s mortal insufficiency to us. Augustine says the Lord loves each of us as an only child, and that has to be true. “He will wipe the tears from all faces.” It takes nothing from the loveliness of the verse to say that is exactly what will be required.

Theologians talk about a prevenient grace that precedes grace itself and allows us to accept it. I think there must also be a prevenient courage that allows us to be brave – that is, to acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm. And therefore, this courage allows us, as the old men said, to make ourselves useful. It allows us to be generous, which is another way of saying exactly the same thing. But that is the pulpit speaking. What have I to leave you but the ruins of old courage, and the lore of old gallantry and hope? Well, as I have said, it is all an ember now, and the good Lord will surely someday breathe it into flame again.

-Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

These could be one whole quote, as only one paragraph separates them, and the idea of the Lord breathing ember to flame unites the excerpts. This is a wonderful description of the Lord’s gentle power.

I’m not sure whether to discuss the book or the quotes, or even if I can distinguish between them. It’s been a while since I’ve read the book, but all I can really identify with now in these quotes are faith and grace.

A simplification, from the last paragraph of the second quote: God extends his gentle power to us, through grace; this enables bravery in us, or faith, which empowers us to be generous, or to give of ourselves. We are extensions of him; we are his instruments.

When this world flickers and faintly glows and fades into grey, I want the courage to see that it’s more; to open my eyes. We are part of the world. Creation. It will radiate once again.

I catch glimpses of this now, as my rants fall upon attentive ears or as prayers literally surround me. I distrust the world so much sometimes, but it hasn’t blinded me. A little heat still emanates from the embers, and it warms my willingness, the air lifts and billows my hope, inspires me. Inspire, as in, to give breath to, like unto an instrument, which is all I want to be.

So that is what I will do. I will listen. I will pray. And I will hope, faithfully. It will be enough, because grace makes it so.