"Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things." "I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
- Lewis Carroll
Through the Looking Glass
While piling grocery bags into the car with my mother many years ago, a breeze with that smell of dirt and rust that signals a gathering storm picked up and pushed the empty carts around the parking lot. All the ride home the sky darkened, leaves turned over and shuddered and far away lightning danced out in the cornfields of South Jersey. When we turned the corner onto our street, which was really a highway, I saw a sheet running across our front yard as did everyone else driving by. Turns out the sheet was my eight year old brother who had tied the corners of his bed sheet onto his wrists and ankles in the hope that the wind would lift him like a kite if he jumped at just the right moment.
I told this story at every other family gathering in front of my brother, who good humoredly put up with the relish I took in laughing each time, straight into his adulthood. I think I stopped telling it when my own children were in the 3rd or 4th grade and still believing impossible things for maybe a little too long. My son promised he’d build a spaceship and we’d go flying around the earth, assuring me he’d bring sleeping bags and make spaghetti so we would be comfortable for the long trip. Lucy was sure she herd “Jig” the leprechaun under the church pews at our old church and kept her eyes open for empty Twixt candy wrappers for weeks after St. Patrick’s Day, a tell-tale sign that he’d been sneaking around. I remember unsuccessfully willing myself to believe that it was possible walk through the mirror above my Grandmother’s dresser and enter Lewis Carroll’s Looking Glass world.
I’ll bet many children stop believing impossible things when their Grandmother asks them incredulously what they could possibly be thinking leaving handprints all over the mirror or when their big sister laughs, catching them with their wonder at life hanging out and their arms stretched wide in the wind.
When I got to church as an adult I found it to be a place to try out believing impossible things again, but this time with plenty of rehearsal and lots of people trying to believe too.
Willing myself to believe there is holiness in everyone I experimented with paying attention to boring people. With enough persistence, I often fell in love. Armed with imperative to believe that Christ is present in the stranger, I’ve braced myself to go down hospital corridors to offer communion to people I didn’t know, insisted my feet walk into mosques for worship and I’ve also hung out in neighborhoods I’ve been warned not to be in. As promised, Jesus has shown up in all of those places plenty of times. Suspending the disbelief required to believe there is nobody beyond Christ’s ability to forgive, I’ve listened to people confess unspeakable things and grab onto absolution like a life raft in the middle of a stormy sea. Upon observing this I didn’t have to practice believing Divine, irrevocable forgiveness is the only hope for the whole broken world. Like the voice of someone you’ve loved on the phone but haven’t seen for years, I’ve recognized it straight away.
The church has disabused me of the notion that some things have to be seen to be believed.
Instead, there are so many more things have to be believed to be seen.
Thanks be to God.
Your sister in Christ,