by Jadell M. Forman
On Mondays, I’ve been leading our discussion, using the Eucharist cup as a metaphor for life.
When some of my friends drive across Kansas, Nebraska, or the Dakotas, they see “nothing.” With the best of intentions, they warn me before my solo road trips to be prepared to be bored as I drive through hundreds of miles of “empty” landscape.
My experience, however, proves to be quite different from theirs. Instead of being bored, I’m energized, looking for signs of life to my right and left. The signs of life are not stereo-typical: neon lights, moving traffic, bustling people. Rather, I’m seeing invisible rhythms of farm and ranch life. Wherever I see a fence, I look for livestock. Wherever I see a meandering tree line, I look for a stream. Wherever I see a grove, I look for barns, houses, equipment.
Not only do I see what’s there, I imagine what came before and what is to come: all the activity that goes into a planting and harvest season, the task of fixing a winter-damaged fence in preparation for the antsy livestock that have been confined in smaller places. I see these things because I’ve had first-hand experience with them.
Likewise, whenever I read “The Cup of Salvation” (a chapter in Henri Nouwen’s book, Can You Drink the Cup?), I see rhythms unapparent to the many people who, like me, read and enjoy this Christian classic. My perspective comes from first-hand experience with the depths of this chapter through a graduate-level discourse analysis.
Tacitly, upon my first reading over a decade ago, I knew there was something different about Nouwen’s small but profound book. As a writer, I looked for clues in the patterns and methods of his writing. Although I didn’t find much with my common tools of observation, I remained convinced that the short chapters were as rich in layer and luxury as Enya’s short songs.
My graduate-level class in advanced grammar and study of modern English provided me the tools I needed to locate and uncover, quantify and qualify the originality and rhythms in this book. In addition to analyzing grammar (e.g., gerunds, pronouns, etc.), I analyzed and graphed sentence patterns and sentence lengths, where the rhythm aspect I’d tacitly sensed became academically visible.
It’s providential that, in a chapter on salvation, what I’d sensed tacitly, I came to know tangibly. Why? The same thing is happening to me personally: what I sense tacitly about God’s ongoing salvation, I desire to see tangibly. In other words, I believe God saves all the time, but I don’t readily see it.
The belief is especially close-at-hand when those plains, pastures, and fields of my road trips look even more uniform under a layer of snow, like a black-and-white photo. Even when the landscape looks frozen and barren, I can imagine the full-color version of what exists under that snow, and what life comes from the land. I appreciate this picture as part of the rhythm.
So it is with salvation. I still don’t readily see God’s ongoing salvation in the barren and cold landscape of our world’s history. But neither did the psalmists, crying, “How long…?” and “Why…?” As Eugene Peterson puts it:
Questions and protests regarding God’s absence are not marginal to salvation. The psalmists are neither shy nor apologetic in giving us license to pray our complaints about the way this whole salvation business is being conducted” (Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, p 154).
Still, I believe, and pray to drink in this cup of salvation, just as I drink in the rural landscapes.
Jadell M. Forman writes for The Neighborhood Café on Mondays, and drinks in a rural landscape as often as possible.