Sunday, August 12, 2012


If only we could understand how much God loves us? Perhaps a story can help. This is a story about Jack Boughton, from the novel Home by Marilynne Robinson.

Jack has just returned to his small, sleepy hometown of Gilead, Iowa. He has always understood himself as the outsider in a family of seven children, always on the sidelines, the rebel and renegade. He has always understood himself as the bad boy who doesn’t belong. But he’s come home now, trying to piece things together, trying to come home to himself really.

Jack’s life is in shambles. First there was the thing with that poor, underage girl; their baby died tragically years ago. And in the meantime Jack has done some time in prison. You see Jack is a thief. He has deceived family and friends. Always on the move, he’s been a vagrant for years, in and out of jobs. He has just run out on his lovely wife and little son. Jack is addicted to drink. And a few days ago drunk and desperate, he tried to take his own life here at home right out there in the old barn.

But how his family loves him. They just won’t stop. His frail, aged father, a retired minister tells Jack how much he has always loved him in spite of everything. “So many times, over the years,” he says, “I’ve tried not to love you so much. I never got anywhere with it." He just can’t stop loving Jack. (Even though, truth be told, it’s just about wearied the old man to death.) But Jack is sure that he's not worth his family's time or love. But they can’t stop. They refuse to.

Now Jack’s father is near death, the Reverend Ames, his best friend, has come to celebrate the breaking of the bread with him. The prayers are said, the bread is broken and shared. But when the holy bread is offered to Jack, he steps back, head lowered, hands closed. The love is unbearable; he excludes himself, so certain is he of his own unworthiness. A tragedy.

Which of us is worthy of love, of real relationship, of holy communion? Only the love of the other, earthly or divine; only that gaze of love can draw us into the reality of our belovedness. With good reason we say, “Lord, I am not worthy,” before receiving Holy Communion. Only love has made us worthy. Christ Jesus, our Lord, in welcome and desire for us, draws us to himself.  Part of our "work" as monks is learning how to receive this gift in gratitude and humility and joy. If only we knew the gift of God and who it is who loves us beyond all telling.