My uncle was an acknowledged expert on what it took for a person to get into heaven; I listened to him many Sunday mornings preaching his sermons, his eyes alight and his hair ablaze in the glory of his god. Even as a child I knew his words were but foolery. He spoke them with such certainty that he had to be mistaken.
He no doubt looked at me as an expert at what it took not to get into heaven. He counseled me to walk in the certain light of his god. Instead I walk in the uncertain darkness of the mystery. He counseled me to take Jesus by the hand and forget all my troubles. I have known nothing but trouble all my days yet my heart is serene.
I loved my uncle as a man while he loved his god as his servant. My uncle’s god asked him to devote his life to teaching that which everyone already knows. The mystery asks nothing of me so I devote my life to not-teaching that which no one knows.
My uncle and I were together only a short while—less than fourteen years—before a horrid fire in his church took his life. At his funeral the priest said how angels were sent down by God to bring home the faithful folk like my uncle. I envisioned heaven’s net being cast down from on high gathering in his ardent spirit to be hauled before his god for his day of reckoning. For a long time after I prayed that day went well for my uncle.
I’m sure my mother loved her older brother as I loved mine yet I always sensed a splintered crack separating their love. When my uncle visited our home my mother returned to her little girl days eager to please him but she always seemed to be falling short. Today I recognize the same sickness in the love I felt for my older brothers.
A troubled person is drowned in water; I am drowned by my mouth. Water is always nearby yet those who know it not drown in its depths. Its nature makes it easy to play with but dangerous to approach. The mouth is loquacious and troublesome for words once uttered have scant repentance; people are easily ruined by them.
If people are taught lessons of virtue and uniformity by rules of ceremony their minds will dwell on what is good; if they are taught by laws and uniformity is enforced by punishment their minds will be thinking of how to escape. If I bind people to me by my good faith they do not turn away from me. If I show them courtesy their hearts are docile to me. I watch how others use restraints of punishment against people calling them laws. In this case people become bad and are isolated.
Words begin as threads but when spoken they become as rope binding the speaker. Therefore I do not take the lead in idle chatter. I never speak words which may be spoken but not embodied in deeds nor do I perform actions which may be done in deed but not expressed in words. In this fashion my words are carried into action without risk and my actions can be spoken of without risk.
I once met a brave and passionate man. We were traveling together on a passenger train going west to the sea. Over the course of the trip we talked of many things while watching the scenery flow past the windows. He must have come to feel comfortable in confiding his secret to me as he whispered how his wife had run off with another man; opening his coat he showed me a pistol he carried; he told me how he planned on killing them both or to die trying.
I once met a brave and calm man. We were traveling together in a truck while working as barkers in a carnival. Our talk served to pass the long hours driving down one Interstate highway after another. On the last day in each others’ company he whispered to me how his wife had run off with another man; he showed me his tears; he told me how he planned on letting them go. He said only God had the right to judge them.
I often wonder which of these two is good and which is evil? I suppose some things aren’t favored by heaven but no one knows why. Even the wise are not sure of this; so I practice disinterest and revel in not-doing.
Now I am as old as my uncle the priest on the day he perished. Unlike him I don’t talk much but of course I never did. Our natures differed in that. While he made a life of standing before his flock leading them to the nets of heaven I sit silently staring out of the backdoor screen at the hummingbirds flitting about and dancing bumble bees and lazy cats sleeping in the sunshine.
Because the highest virtue is found in disinterest I never yelp about God. When I think of heaven I think of the mystery. It doesn’t strive but it always overcomes all obstacles. It never speaks and yet it is always answered. The mystery asks for nothing yet it is supplied with all its needs. It seems to have no purpose yet its every aim is fulfilled.
It is said heaven’s net casts wide; though its meshes are coarse nothing slips through.
This is the way of heaven.