One Thanksgiving when I was nineteen I volunteered to stay home and take care of the cattle, the chickens, the pets, and the house for my parents and sister as they were joining out-of-state family for the holiday. Greedily I looked ahead to solitude, the absence of people, the removal of noise, human conversation, and eyes watching my every move. Space. Sweet, relaxed space.
As I regularly fed the woodstove, life took on a sweet, easy routine. Dad’s cattle behaved, staying in the boundaries of their fences. The chickens rewarded me with eggs for breakfast each morning. The dogs and cats were tail-waggingly, purr-liciously grateful for the food, water, and treats I gave them. I kept the television off because the sound of silence was enchanting, delightful. My mind was energized by the environment around me, I was encouraged to pinch at life’s tangled tapestry of strings in order to begin unraveling a few more mysteries.
Obviously my folks live out in the country where plentiful stars shine, generous evergreens scent the air, nocturnal creatures dominant the darkness, and silence fills in the gaps. Nature dictates the rhythm when one lives in the country. I find it easy to join the steps of nature’s march through time. For me it is difficult to march to the staccato rhythm of city life, a rhythm that seems to be determined by no one and nothing at all, just a hypnotized stampeding towards an unknown destiny fueled by expectations, greed, peer pressure, and denial.
My Thanksgiving was bliss that nineteenth year of my life. I love my family, and traditions are dear to my heart, but that last teenage year I needed time and space to reflect, though I wasn’t sure what it was which coaxed my attention. The days passed, each one settling me more, calming my restless spirit, teaching me through daily chores and fending for myself that I had grown up a bit, I had become competent enough to care for other living things, for property, and for myself.
The lesson I remember most vividly was taught on the Saturday of that four-day weekend when a strange nighttime noise prickled the hairs on my neck, froze my breathing, and mercilessly squeezed my stomach. In the fear generated from that sound whose cause I could not discern I realized that I had nothing to be afraid of from the animal kingdom, for the house was quite secure. I had nothing to dread from nature, Oregon doesn’t have horrific storms and this November was particularly kind, though chilly. The machinery of the house was well-known to me so that, should something misbehave, I felt confident I could deal with it.
No, no, what I feared in that wide-eyed, all-senses-alert moment was Man; other humans outside of their boundaries and into mine. THEY could hurt me. They could kill me.
It was then that I realized that sin, man’s disobedience to the ways of God, is the most dangerous thing in the world. I realized this intellectually and viscerally in that moment of trepidation. It wasn’t human beings living in the light of God’s goodness who scared me, it was those who may be rebelling against it at the time, about to do unspeakable things to me, or just rob my parents’ house and encounter ME in the process. That scared me. And why, I wondered did that scare me more than a tree falling, or a roof-snatching storm? Perhaps, I pondered, it was because nature is impersonal, it’s not out to get ME, it has no malice or agenda, it is not evil.
The idea of being harmed or killed by nature didn’t upset me so much as the idea of another human being selecting me for harm or death. I guess it’s that the violence of nature has no mind. The violence of mankind, though, is fueled by evil.
Another thought followed this realization. I have evil in me, too. And that scared me most of all.
It was in that moment of clarity that I firmly understood the gift of love which God offers, his way out which Christians call salvation from sin, the cleansing provided for anyone who is aware of the resident evil within and desperately desires to be rid of it.
I live with the knowledge that the terror of sin remains in our world right alongside goodness and will remain until all objective reality is replaced with an unbroken world. The hope that does not disappoint is that, for those who realize their brokenness and come to understand what God is about, there is a day where sin will fall away like chains from a freed prisoner, and the pure goodness that we crave will be ours at last when we exist with the one who is True Goodness.
In the meantime, I think we should refuse to give in to evil, even when we ourselves are the cause. To slump down and let it steamroll over us and out of us, would be a tragedy. To fight it within and without, to give goodness its rightful honor, to nurture what is right and pure in the world and in ourselves is to state clearly that we have hope, that we believe in and follow One who is Good.
It's a worthy battle.
The noise that Thanksgiving? I never DID figure out what it was.