From Love, Love at the End
Want nothing small about men – except perhaps their words, modest and thoughtful and almost inaudible before their deeds. For the rest, bigness; heart, brain. Imagination too; let it take the world in two hands and show us what it’s like to be! Tell us about it, we’re hungry. Doesn’t the Bible call truth bread? We’re starved, our smile has lost out, we crawl on a thin margin – a life, maybe, but so what? Where’s the man who says yes, says no, like a thunderclap? Where’s the man whose no turns to yes in his mouth – he can’t deny life, he asks like a new flower or a new day or a hero even: What more is there to love than I have loved?
When I hear bread breaking, I see something else; it seems almost as though God never meant us to do anything else. So beautiful a sound, the crust breaks up like manna and falls all over everything, and then we eat; bread gets inside humans. It turns into what the experts call “formal glory of God.” But don’t let that worry you. Sometime in your life, hope you might see one starved man, the look on his face when the bread finally arrives. Hope you might have baked it or bought it – or even needed it yourself. For that look on his face, for your hands meeting his across a piece of bread, you might be willing to lose a lot, or suffer a lot – or die a little, even. “Formal glory”; well yes. Maybe what we’re trying to understand is what they’re trying to say, who knows? I don’t think they understand – or every theologian would be working part-time in a bread line. Who knows who might greet him there or how his words might change afterward – like stones into bread? Most theologians have never broken bread for anyone in their lives. Do you know, I think they think Christ is as well fed as his statues.
But I don’t know. Man keeps breaking in.
Take your “typical man” across the world. Let him in. Look at him, he isn’t white, he probably isn’t clean. He certainly isn’t well fed or American, or Christian. So then what? What’s left? Well, maybe now we’re getting somewhere; Christ is all that’s left, if you’re looking for a mystery. He’s real as a man. Don’t just stand there! Sit him down. Offer him some bread! He’ll understand that; bread comes across. So does Christ – Luke says so – in the breaking of bread. What a beautiful sound – try and see!
I keep thinking of that poor man. And his face, when someone shows up against all odds to treat him like a human being. But that isn’t all, or even half the truth. The other half, or more, is what he sees in you. And that’s a mercy, because Christ is merciless about the poor. He wants them around – always, and everywhere. He’s condemned them to live with us. It’s terrifying. I mean for us, too. It’s not only that we are ordered, rigorously ordered, to serve the poor. That’s hard enough; Christ gives so few orders in all the gospel. but the point is, what the poor see in us – and don’t see, too. We stand there, American, White, Christian, with the keys of the kingdom and the keys of the world in our pocket. Everything about us says: Be like me! I’ve got it made. But the poor man sees the emperor – naked. Like the look of Christ, the poor man strips us down to the bone.
And then, if we’re lucky, something dawns – even on us. Why, we’re the poor. The reel plays backward, everything’s reversed when the gospel is in the air. The clothes fly off Dives; he’s Negro, he’s nothing, he’s got his hand out – forever. Empty as a turned-up skull. Watch the reel now – it’s important to see which way the bread is passing. To you, to me! We’re in luck. This is our day.
The poor have it hard, the saying goes. Well, we’re the hardest thing they have. Do you know I think sometime if we poor rich are ever going to grow up into faith, it will be only because poor men are around – everywhere, always, drunks, winos, junkeys, the defeated, the ne’er-do-wells, those who didn’t make it onto our guarded spoiled playground. And those who never wanted to play our game, and whose rages are therefore a kind of riches we will never wear. All of them, a special Providence, a holy rain and sun, falling equably on the unjust, the smooth conmen, the well oiled Cadillac humans and inhumans, the purblind, the Christians and their impure gods in cupboards and banks and nuclear silos, the white unchristian West, all of us. But for the poor, we’d never know who we are, or where we came from or where we are (just possibly) going – in spite of tons of catechisms and the ten editions of the Handbook for Instant Salvation and that best of sellers, I Kept You-Know-Who Out and Found God.
On the Cloud of Unknowing; number nine. Blind as bats. Then a poor man (they are all miracle men, they have to be to live one day in our world) stands there. His poverty is like a few loaves and fishes – enough for everyone! He breaks and breaks bread and feeds us and we line up again and again, literally bottomless with our need, going for broke, sore and ill tempered and jostling one another, hearing the word p[ass down the line, there’s hardly any left, resenting, straining forward in a frenzy of despair. But there’s always enough, always some more. Christ guaranteed it – I don’t know why. The poor you have always with you. Like a marvelous majestic legacy of God. His best possession, in our hands. Undeserved like the Eucharist. O send someone in from the gate where Dives sits on a dungheap in his sores, send even one of the dogs to whimper for us – Would Lazarus of his heart’s goodness let a dog lick up the crumbs from the floor, and carry even in a dog’s mouth something for the damned?
This is the truth about the world, our Lord said. Everything comes right, all the deep wrongs of existence are turned inside out, the rich are stripped even of their shrouds, the poor men go in wedding garments.
The first way to defeat Christianity is to strike Christians blind. Let the rich really think they can hang on to it all, and wheeler deal even with the angel of judgment named Christ, and (imagine) face him for the first time in death – when all of life is a great tragic Greek chorale sung by Christs in masks, sometimes furies, sometimes war-racked women. Sometimes a foul wino in a mission sings it out like a bird of paradise remembering his last incarnation, but never, never looks up when Mr. Big goes by. The untranslated, unbearable cry, pure judgement, pure anger, pure rejection. Reality ! Reality!
O the poor will line up before the Judge with Torrid Eyes, a handful of daisies in one hand, a sword in the other. They look gently toward his right side. They know. Come. They were the workers of corporal mercy. They are saved for having been, for being, for being for others. They save even us. They carried fresh bread to stale lives. Come, beloved of My Father.