“Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some to see.” C.S. Lewis
I grew up hearing my dad opine about Gemütlichkeit. It’s a German concept that combines coziness (which my introverted American mind associates with solitude) and community. It’s the warm feeling of friendship around a fire, a shared pot of tea and the discussion of a good book, the comfort that comes from joining of mental and emotional forces with a true friend. He always prioritized people and relationships—growing up, we spent summer weeks road-tripping from friend to relative to friend. As a teenager, I rolled my eyes and responded by diving into French Existentialism, drawn by the solitary but existentially engaged figures found in the writing of Sartre and Camus. “Hell is other people”, truth must be grappled with in the face of expectations from others. The Big Ideas were larger than life in every sense. Instead of traveling to visit friends, I traveled to see art, to experience ideas. I read to feed my intellect.
I listened for the voice of God in doctrine and theology. I knew the Bible backwards and forwards the way a student preparing for a test knows a textbook. I studied the rules and form and moral structures spelled out in it. The morals of the stories written about presumably real people where the focus was the lesson more than they lives they described. I was dedicated to a God who made sense, whose philosophy was structured and tidy—identifiable, understandable, consistent. I served a God who commanded. It was an economy of beliefs where God’s laws provided wisdom, comfort, and protection from difficulty in exchange for obedience. Christ’s death simply took away our inability to conform to His wishes and adjusted the balance book when we screwed up.
That worked for awhile… until it didn’t. In my mid-thirties, I began to feel the strain of my theology on the relationships that were important to me. I faced the question of whether I would attend my best friend’s (hypothetical) same-sex wedding. As a guardian of Truth, as a warrior in the battle for our culture, I had an obligation to use my life to model what was good and true and righteous. But I loved my friend. And I struggled. Then I read a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. With eyes fresh from the story of a man who died trying to assassinate an ideologue for the sake of Life Together, I read the book of John for the umpteenth time. I saw—for the first time—the Christ the Pharisees criticized as the “Friend of Sinners”.
As I started to catch glimmers of something new and different, my thirteen-year marriage to someone who shared my background and ideologies collapsed. The economy of beliefs failed me spectacularly. I grieved by running away from the rules that seemed broken, the obligations that I thought would protect me but hadn’t. And there, in the middle of hookups and way too much alcohol consumed alone on my couch binge-watching “The Good Wife”, I found what I’d always thought was a cliche meant for people who didn’t already go to church—Christ in the middle of my pain and weakness, closer and more real than I ever realized He could be.
The Friend of Sinners didn’t speak the language of obligation or condemnation. He didn’t do an altar call or recite the Ten Commandments at me. He didn’t argue predestination versus free will. He sat with me in my difficulty. He was simply there, and He found small, loving, kind ways to show it. He cared about my heartache, my broken ambitions, my desires—straight down to the color of my boots. He re-awoke the desires of my heart and made sure I knew that what He wanted more than anything was to talk with me about them. When I couldn’t see Him in the big ideas any more, He surprised me by meeting me in the small things of my own life. He introduced me to Love in and through the trivial circumstances.
“The everyday. It is not merely ennui, pointlessness, repetition, triviality; it is beauty as well; for instance, the magical charm of atmospheres, a thing everyone has felt in his own life: a strain of music heard faintly from the next apartment, the wind rattling the windowpane; the monotonous voice of a professor that a lovesick schoolgirl hears without registering; these trivial circumstances stamp some personal event with an inimitable singularity that dates it and makes it unforgettable.” Milan Kundera, The Curtain