What Will Pass for Mercy

By Brian Volck

2986260634_9a443c432e_m“Do not say God is just. Justice has not been evident in God’s dealings with you.”
—Isaac of Syria

Among the habits I’ve lately tried living without are reading online comment boxes (Good Letters being an exception) and making predictions. I bypass comments because I encounter enough wrath, ridicule, and unreason without wallowing in still more online. As for prophecy, my ability to predict the future isn’t what it used to be.

Parents routinely ask me, a pediatrician, what’s in store for their children. I offer probabilities and guesses. Harder still to predict “the fate of the nation.” I don’t know where the United States, with an armada of oncoming problems and a conspicuous dearth of creative proposals in response, is heading.

Maybe it’s just a passing foul mood, a temporary crisis of confidence, but decline—perhaps precipitous—in America’s global economic and political influence seems likely. Who knows what shape that may take? [Read more...]

No Glory in Jericho

4665513188_2ebccf74d2_mI was standing with a Palestinian Muslim and three Jews. Jericho. The ancient city. Some say Jericho is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. Others say that distinction belongs to one of the cities in Egypt, or Syria, or Turkey.

Either way, the old city of Jericho is astoundingly old. Settlement activity dating back to 10,000 BC. The further you look down into the archeological pits of Jericho, the further back in time you’re looking.

You travel the eons just by glancing. We peered down into the dirt pit before us. It went thirty or forty feet down. [Read more...]

Prayer in Five Parts

3002738501_4d38d6121f_m“Prayer…is always available to us.”

–St. Seraphim of Sarov


I sit atop my red metal bunk bed, thumbing through the orange, vinyl-bound pocket Bible that I received at a friend’s Vacation Bible School party. Tomorrow morning, I have an appointment with the doctor, who will examine a cyst on my left breast.

I am ten years old, and my mother cannot tell me what the cyst is. On my bed, the ceiling light spins in a crooked circle above me. I read Psalm 42:

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for thee, O Lord. The fan shrieks as it swings, and I say out loud: “God, please don’t let me have cancer. Please don’t let me die.”

The next day, my prayer is answered––the cyst is harmless, and the doctor is kind. The Bible gets tucked into my bed sheets, the vinyl cover cold on my feet as I sleep. [Read more...]

Dollar Store Evangelism

7983352_ae05874354_oBecause I enjoy the finer things in life, I ran into Dollar Tree the other day to grab a few bottles of shower gel. The store is a bright, stale-plastic-smelling establishment specializing in glow bracelets, “chocolatey” Easter candy, and knock-off pregnancy tests. (Why didn’t they carry those during my childbearing years?) While it’s preferable to the more staidly dismal Dollar General, it’s certainly not a place for spiritual awakening.

The young man at the checkout, who probably had already swiped several dozen last-minute gift bags across the scanner by this point in the day, smiled warmly at a sixtyish woman standing in line in front of me.

“Are you having a good day?”

“Why, yes!” she beamed, unfolding a few bills from her coin purse. She thought a bit. “You’re so friendly to everyone here. I really like that.”

“Well,” he said, looking up shyly, “I just like to treat people the way I would like to be treated.”

The woman brightened immediately. “You know, the Gospel of John says Jesus even lays his life down for his friends. And he says we are his friends if we do what he commands.”

My eyes caught his, and in a microsecond, everything was said: I was trying to be nice. I didn’t mean to bring Jesus into it. I’m trapped and embarrassed you’re hearing it too.

[Read more...]

My Only Begotten Sin

11087699415_16fe60c2bb_zBecause I remain restless and impatient even in middle age, I am often only halfway listening to important things spoken of in church. Therefore, I can mishear what the priest is saying, sometimes to comical effect.

Like Bart Simpson, “In the Garden of Eden” becomes “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” I have heard “sex” for “sects” and “possums” for “apostles.” When I was a boy, for the longest time I thought “Agnus Dei” was the name of the woman up front who played the choir organ: “Agnes Day.” [Read more...]