here if you need me

January 12, 2009

This is a memoir by Kate Braestrup, currently chaplain to game wardens working for the state of Maine.  It’s a rare book that pursues eloquence without once relinquishing clarity.  It made me imagine rather wistfully an alternate life as a Unitarian Universalist, which is something utterly unprecedented, and far more radical than my other daydream of being an atheist.

After two hundred pages, in which you get a vivid sense of Braestrup’s distinctive personality and an equally strong experience of sharing with her a common life, she gives an anecdote and a brief, devastating and utterly necessary comment:

Once, in conversation with a very nice Baptist classmate at the seminary, I admitted that if Drew hadn’t died I probably would never have become a minister.

“You see!” she responded brightly.  “God knew what he was doing!”

This is the sort of remark that, however common, makes me despair of Christianity’s ability to respond in any helpful or sensible way to the reality of death.

It’s not so much that anyone would be convicted by this excerpt alone, but that the entire memoir provides a context such that even the most serene true believer would feel the force of Braestrup’s objection.  At the same time, Braestrup’s account would support that same believer in the conviction that God is at work in human beings, irrespective of their personal creeds, caring for creation and creatures (human or inhuman) with a grace that is indeed supernatural.

I should also mention that it’s very funny.  A great book all around.

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