Try to praise the mutilated world. Remember June’s long days, and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine. The nettles that methodically overgrow the abandoned homesteads of exiles. You must praise the mutilated world. You watched the stylish yachts and ships; one of them had a long trip ahead of it, while salty oblivion awaited others. You’ve seen the refugees going nowhere, you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully. You should praise the mutilated world. Remember the moments when we were together in a white room and the curtain fluttered. Return in thought to the concert where music flared. You gathered acorns in the park in autumn and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars. Praise the mutilated world and the gray feather a thrush lost, and the gentle light that strays and vanishes and returns.
This life is too much trouble, far too strange, to arrive at the end of it and then to be asked what you make of it and have to answer “Scientific humanism.” That won’t do. A poor show. Life is a mystery, love is a delight. Therefore I take it as axiomatic that one should settle for nothing less than the infinite mystery and the infinite delight, i.e., God. In fact I demand it. I refuse to settle for anything less. I don’t see why anyone should settle for less than Jacob, who actually grabbed aholt of God and would not let go until God identified himself and blessed him.
Dostoevsky was arrested and put before a firing squad. Soldiers opened fire and from then on his life was never the same:
The great Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky, told the story of the time he was arrested by the czar and sentenced to die. When the day of his execution arrived, it was if his senses were more alive than ever before. As he ate his last meals, he savored every bite. Every breath of air was taken with an awareness of how precious it was. He studied every face that he saw with added intensity. He wanted every experience etched on his mind. As the guards marched him into the courtyard where he would face a firing squad, Dostoevsky felt the sun beating down on him and he appreciated its warmth as never before. Everything around him seemed to have a magical quality to it. He was seeing the world as he had never seen it before. All his senses were heightened. He had become fully alive.
Dostoevsky and the others sentenced to death that day were marched in front of the firing squad and blindfolded. They heard the gunshots go off, but they felt nothing. Gradually it dawned on each prisoner that the guns were loaded with blanks. That day the czar took more pleasure in playing cruel mind games than in killing those who’d rebelled against him.
Yet what the czar intended for evil was used by God for good. Instead of being psychologically broken, Dostoevsky was transformed. He became grateful to people he had previously hated. He became thankful for everything about life, especially the gift of life itself. Dostoevsky believed that it was this experience that made him into a novelist and raised his sensitivities so that he could perceive dimensions of reality never known to him before.
Far too many people go through life living only partially. Their senses aren’t fully opened. They lack a real sense of purpose. They overlook so much that’s of value because they’re not paying attention. They don’t take the time to be grateful for all that’s good in their lives.
Thankfully, most of us don’t need an experience as frightening and intense as Dostoevsky’s to be transformed into people who are fully alive. We’re promised that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. An entirely new dimension to our lives is added. Our challenge as Christians is not only to follow Christ but to increasingly be transformed so we can appreciate the abundant life he gives.
Abundant life does not mean that everything will be easy or things will go the way we want them to. Life is difficult and bad things happen to good people. What abundant life does mean is that God, who came in the form of Christ and lives within and among us in the form of the Holy Spirit, is always with us. Through the ups and downs of life, we are never alone. God’s presence enables us to live fully, to remain faithful, and to appreciate all that is good about life.
A few weeks ago, I met the photographer, Charlie Krupa, for the first time. He works for the Associated Press, and he came to my house to photograph my fiancée and I for an article… I told Charlie that I understand now, like I didn’t then, that he was helping us that day, in the best way he knew how. He was documenting what happened.