The pastor was a kind young man with no family of his own, who soon became a regular guest at our supper table. I grew to adore him. He was vital and funny and could catch an airborne fly with one hand. He listened to me when I talked and let me lead him on tours of my projects around the house. He seemed able, when he looked at me, to see a person and not only a child, and I loved him for it.But the story doesn't end there. He goes on to show that the way of Jesus can be as difficult and complicated as it is beautiful. It costs something, sometimes a great deal:
One Sunday he asked me to sit up close to the pulpit. He wanted me to hear his sermon, he said, and as I listened to him talk about the beauty of God's creation and our duty to be awed by it, all of a sudden I heard him telling the congregation about a little girl who kept tadpoles in a birdbath so that she could watch over them as they turned into frogs, and how her care for those creatures was part of God's care for the whole world.
It was as if someone had turned on all the lights - not only to hear myself spoken of in church, but to hear that my life was part of God's life, and that something as ordinary as a tadpole connected the two. My friend's words changed everything for me. I could no longer see myself or the least detail of my life in the same way again. When the service was over that day I walked out of it into a God-enchanted world, where I could not wait to find further clues to heaven on earth. Every leaf, every ant, every shiny rock called out to me - begging to be watched, to be listened to, to be handled and examined. I became a detective of divinity, collecting evidence of God's genius and admiring the tracks left for me to follow: locusts shedding their hard bodies for soft, new, winged ones; prickly pods of milkweed spilling silky white hair; lightening spinning webs of cold fire in the sky, as intricate as the veins in my own wrist. My friend taught me to believe that these were all words in the language of God, hieroglyphs given to puzzle and delight me even if I never cracked the code.
I was a willing student until the day I lost my teacher. At first all I knew was that something was wrong. Threat hung in the air as it had on those dark afternoons in Kansas, only this time it was not the weather. "Civil rights" had come to Ohio, a phrase that made adults talk loudly and lose their tempers. They chose sides and defended them; they wanted my friend to chose sides too, and he did. The doors of the church were open, he said. He would stand there to make sure they remained open, he said, so that is where they hung him - in effigy - a grotesque stuffed figure that bore no resemblance to my friend, swaying in the heat as he packed and left town.
That was when I began to understand that God's call was not only wonderful but also terrible, that the bright gleam I pursued through the woods and fields behind my house had another dimension I knew nothing about. It had sharp edges to it. It was capable of cutting deep, and those who reached out to grasp it has best be prepared to bleed.