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...]

Prayer in Five Parts

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

–St. Seraphim of Sarov

I

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...]

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...]

Monasticism In Lockdown America, Part 5: Holy Elders

blackwell'sjailportraitWith their white beards and deep lines in their faces, the older men stand out in our jail Bible study’s circle of usually-young men with either tattoos on the outsides of their arms or track marks on the insides. I’m always struck by the old men’s humility, how they don’t tell the whippersnappers to shut up. They listen. There is a sorrow about them.

Take Merle. He’s only in his late fifties, but his questions speak to this sorrow. Someone had prayed for his left leg’s chronic pain in our group Bible study, and not only did the pain go away and stay away, but the healing grew deeper into his heart. Two weeks later he glowed in his red scrubs, trying to describe to us in the circle how he’d begun praying in his cell, how he felt different.

[Read more...]

Girl Meets God in the Classroom, Part 2

Rembrandt-The_return_of_the_prodigal_sonContinued from yesterday.

On the first day of my class “Spiritual Autobiographies: Theirs and Ours,” a few students shared that they weren’t “spiritual people.” Why, I wondered, did they sign up for this elective class?

Some of them, I would learn later in the semester, had been deeply wounded by religion. A few said that religion had been forced on them by their parents.

At this moment of emerging adulthood, it was time to turn away, to turn another way. Neither the students nor I realized, as class began in mid-August, that some of their wounds, whether exposed in speech, writing, or—to anyone paying attention—in silence, would become sites of inquiry and that inquiry itself might begin a process of healing.

[Read more...]


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