I've been working my way through The Technological Society lately, but Ellul's dour grey prose didn't seem to be the right sort of reading for a warm, blue Seattle Sunday. In addition, I was on active parent duty today, and Ellul's not the sort of author you can read very profitably if you have to put him down every few minutes to chase Caedmon away from, respectively, my dirty socks, the cat, a staircase, my laptop, a lamp and its associated electrical cord, and the toilet I accidentally left open. (I can remember, many months ago, looking forward to Caedmon's mobility.)
So I picked up Frederick Buechner's Godric instead. I've read it with pleasure and profit some three or four times previously, but it's been many years, and it seemed time to join Buechner's salty saint in damp Wear once more.
In general, Buechner runs hot and cold for me. I've never been able to make it through any of his sermon collections, and even some of his novels leave me scratching my head. Bebb is a mess, Brendan was a pale shadow of Godric, and The Storm was only, well, interesting. But periodically Buechner hits high notes that leave Italian sopranos gasping with envy. Son of Laughter ranks up with Von Rad and Alter as one of the best Genesis commentaries I've ever read, especially when you consider that it's a novel. And Godric is astonishing and delightful in every way.
I read at least one part of the novel differently this time. When Godric arrives at Jaffa, I was able to picture what the port would have looked like: I don't believe that it has much changed since Godric's time.
And his description of Jerusalem, for all its wrought emotion, nevertheless rings true:
"A friar with a cross led me and other palmers to the sites where thou didst cruelly suffer here on earth. At each we stopped and knelt. And every time we did, I felt thy presence near as breath. Oh wert thou near in truth, or was it only that I wished it so? The friar took us to the court where Pilate had thee flogged and showed us traces of thy blood and fingerprints upon the stone. Then didst thou hear me as I called thy name? Didst mark the tears that trickled down my beard? Oh dost thou hear and mark me now, sweet King? Old Godric has to hope that hope or else his heart, which by thy grace has thumped these hundred years, must crack at last. Amen."
I can't speak for every pilgrim, but Jerusalem evoked nearly these same emotions for me. The very air of the city was thick, uncomfortable, holy. It felt like the summit of Rainier: beautiful and majestic, oppressive and dangerous, and at home in an atmosphere that left me gasping for breath.
"When thou camest riding in upon an ass and the folk all welcomed thee with shouts of praise and palms, thou saidst if they were still, the very stones would cry aloud instead. And so they do. The streets. The walls. The earth itself. All cries. Rome and her glory were of all things dead. Jerusalem is still alive with thee."