A drizzly Tuesday afternoon in late summer found me at the grocery store, picking up a dozen items that we’d somehow managed to miss on our weekly shopping trip over the weekend. I am not enamored with shopping of any kind, and grocery shopping, after doing it weekly (or more) for lo these many years, is not my preferred way to spend part of an afternoon, even a drizzly one. So it was rather shocking that as I was pulling out of the parking lot, a sudden stab of joy shot through me, and a smile broke across my face, and the words “God, thanks for my life!” tumbled out of my mouth.
Why was I suddenly so happy? Was it the pleasant exchange with the cashier? The smile of thanks when I gave my cart to a woman who was going into the store as I was coming out? The patience of the driver who was waiting to take my parking spot? I didn’t know why I felt that sudden rush of gladness. I only knew I did, and I received it as the grace it was.
As I drove home, happiness thrumming in my veins, into my head sprang a scene from Elizabeth George Speare’s novel The Bronze Bow, which I’d recently re-read.
The book takes place in Palestine at the time of Jesus. The young Jewish protagonist, Daniel, has had his life destroyed by the injustice and oppression of the Romans, and he is filled with hatred and a deep desire for revenge. And then he meets Jesus.
At one point, as Daniel and his friend Thacia are walking home at dusk, Daniel wonders aloud about the healings that Jesus is doing:
“Haven’t you ever wondered… what good it is for them to be healed, those people that Jesus cures? They’re happy at first. But what happens to them after that? What does a blind man think, when he has wanted for years to see, and then looks at his wife in rags and his children covered with sores? That lame man you saw—is he grateful now? Is it worth it to get on his feet and spend the rest of his life dragging burdens like a mule?”
Thacia is troubled by his words but undeterred by his cynicism. She asks if he’s ever thought of taking his frightened and reclusive sister, Leah, to see Jesus. He admits he has and then adds,
“It’s the same as the lame man. It’s not much of a world, is it? Is it worth trying to bring Leah back into it?”
Thacia stood still in the road. “Yes!” she cried, and Daniel was astounded to see that tears had sprung into her eyes. “Oh Daniel—yes! If only I could make you see, somehow, that it is!”
“All this—” she exclaimed, the sweep of her arm including the deepening blue of the sky, the shining lake in the distance, the snow-covered mountain far to the north. “So much! You must look at it all, Daniel, not just the unhappy things.”
At that moment a phalanx of cranes flies overhead, wheeling and catching the light from the setting sun, which shines off their feathers in splinters of shimmering light.
Thacia let out her breath. “How beautiful!” She sighed. “It is beautiful just to be alive in Galilee!”
As I drove home in the gray drizzle, with sun backlighting the clouds over the Sound, I felt like Thacia. It was beautiful just to be alive in Washington.
I confess that for most of my life I have been far more like Daniel than Thacia—melancholy and angry, holding my hurt close to my heart, nursing it even. Also like Daniel, I have met Jesus. Or rather, He has met me and looked me in the eye and loved me, despite my anger and contempt and self-pity. I have often shrunk away from such an unwavering gaze of love. I know exactly how Simon Peter felt when he cried, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
Like Daniel, though, I keep coming back to Jesus. My whole life I have kept coming back. And He has kept welcoming His prodigal daughter. And the more time I spend in His presence the more like Thacia I become, able to look not only at the unhappy things but also the glad ones, to feel sudden spurts of joy in the middle of an ordinary afternoon, to raise my eyes to the hills and the sky and the Canadian geese flying south for the winter and say with wonder, “It is beautiful just to be alive!”
As I pondered The Bronze Bow, it struck me that this is a book for our times. So many of us live like Daniel, mired in hatred and outrage, fixated on all that is wrong, unable to see the goodness in life, wondering if it’s even worth bothering with. Into such a life comes the living Lord with healing in His hands, joy in His eyes, and an invitation on His lips.
“Come, taste and see that the Lord is good.”
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters!”
“Come, you who have no money, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price!”
“Come to me, and drink!”
The Bronze Bow ends with an amazing act of hospitality. But Daniel’s gesture of welcome comes only after he has received the hospitality of Jesus, has allowed himself to be welcomed and received by the One who saw his heart, his pain, his hatred, his loyalty, his cruelty—and still said, “Come.”
And He says it even now: “Come, taste and see that the Lord is good. Taste and see that life is beautiful. Taste and see that it is wonderful just to be alive right where you are. Come.”