“If I could I surely would, stand on the rock where Moses stood.”
From the spiritual, “Oh Mary don’t you weep.”
One of my earliest memories, a moment captured from a time that is normally beyond my reach, is of my father standing in our bathroom in front of a mirror, his face lathered with shaving cream. It was as if he had a snow-white beard. I doubt that as a child I initiated many conversations with him, but in this instance, I did.
“Who is stronger? You or God?”
For a moment, he continued looking at the mirror, then he turned toward me and seemed to consider the question.
“Go ask your mother,” he said.
That’s it. I can’t remember any more. I wish I could. But my memories are spotty. If I were to take an exam about my own life, I’d be lucky to pass. Most questions I would leave unanswered.
For instance, did my family ever have a serious discussion about religion? I remember it being mentioned only indirectly. My grandmother, my mother’s mom, would sometimes mention religion, but not in a theological way. “She’s Catholic, isn’t she?” my grandmother might say if I said anything nice about a girl. My grandmother was from Ulster, the proud daughter of an Orangeman, and she unashamedly opposed the pope. Why else be Protestant?
This sort of religious instruction did not have the staying power in Chicago that it had in Belfast, and I grew up without a strong religious mooring.
That was fine with me. I was happy to admit to a vague Higher Power, and while I noticed there was often a certain inner strength to people of faith, I wasn’t exactly envious. Things are what they are. I was 5 feet, 10 inches. What’s the point in wishing to be 6 feet?
When I thought about it at all, my thinking went something like this: My lack of faith is not really my fault. It’s because I wasn’t born in an Age of Miracles. Had a burning bush spoken to me, I’d have been hooked. By the time I came along, burning bushes weren’t talking.
So I drifted, spiritually unmoored, into early adulthood.
Forty five years ago, I was a young reporter in Phoenix. One day an editor called me over. Followers of Maharishi Mahesh had a place just outside Phoenix. They had sent the paper a couple of photographs showing a young man sitting in a lotus position, apparently levitating.
“See what this is about,” said the editor.
“If they’ve found a way to defy gravity, I’m joining,” I said.
But they had not. They were “hopping.” That was a feat in itself, hopping from the lotus position, but it was like doing a one-arm pull-up. Impressive, but not miraculous.
Many years later, physicists developed a way to carbon-date material with a mass spectrometer. This new method required a fraction of the material that the old method had required. The Catholic church decided to allow the Shroud of Turin to be carbon-dated. Three laboratories were chosen — one in England, one in Switzerland and one in Arizona, which was the lab my father-in-law headed. I was fascinated. Was my father-in-law actually handling the burial shroud of Jesus Christ? Had the image on that shroud been seared into the material during the Resurrection?
This was as close to a burning bush as I was going to get.
All three labs came back with the same result. The cloth dated to around 1300.
There are people who dispute those results. Their arguments often center on a fire centuries ago that might have skewed the results. I would not argue with them.
Late last month, President Donald Trump had a “town hall” on Fox television. Although the news about the coronavirus seemed relentlessly dire, the president said he thought the country could be “open for business” soon. “So I think Easter Sunday and you’ll have packed churches all over our country. I think it will be a beautiful time.”
The enthusiastic Fox host said it would be “a great American resurrection.”
I have never understood why evangelicals are so smitten with Trump, but at that moment, I wondered. As unlikely as it might seem to me, perhaps Trump is in touch with a Higher Power. Mysterious ways and all that.
And how would liberals react if Trump were prophetic? What would they say on MSNBC if the coronavirus were to fade away by Easter? Would the Democrats even field a candidate in November?
But you know what happened. The president talked to the medical people, and probably the political people, too, and then he made the right call, the smart call. The shutdown will continue. It’s disheartening, but that is the way things go in the age in which we live.
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