The lone bus jostles up and down erratically, and the tremors seem to rattle every bone in our bodies as we hurtle along the curvature of rural Scottish roads. Here, there is a stone bridge. There, a flock of sheep calmly grazing. We pass them by, not wholly neglectful as a collective but hurried, unchanging. One pothole proves to be particularly vengeful, causing all passengers to grasp for nearby means of support—an armrest, a pole, or, for one woman, her dog—and I feel transported, as in movies where the scene suddenly changes. I am once again on the Metra on a blustery Chicago day. Emma is talking to me excitedly about the links between music and neuroscience. She says we’ll travel Europe together one day and smiles.
I keep having dreams about everyone I’ve left behind.
Mary Magdalene clutches the feet of Christ, bathing them in tears. The adjacent museum chat label says she is “the very personification of sorrow and repentance.” I cannot look away from her face—her mouth is agape, and I wonder what she cries out for or if she can find no words.
On West Sands, yesterday, after the brutal wind and rain: a rainbow.
Something tugs me into the graveyard upon the hill. It is quiet and still, looking out over the sapphire coastline. “Thou art with me.” I read the headstones slowly as I pass. Some are too worn, ancient and eroded by the forces of wind and rain. Around a corner of the crumbling cathedral wall, I find the thing I was searching for without knowing it, the thing pulling me in somehow. Wilhelmina Barns Graham, Artist of St Andrews, 1912-2004. The scholarship that I received is in her name, honoring her legacy as a woman abstract artist. The tipping of the scales. The catalyst of my decision to come to Scotland after all. It can all be traced back to her. I get down on my knees in the grass and thank her for being a part of God’s goodness and pray for her soul and the lives impacted by her art, feeling a little silly but also overwhelmingly grateful.
“My dear God, how stupid we people are until You give us something. Even in praying it is You who have to pray in us. I would like to write a beautiful prayer but I have nothing to do it from. There is a whole sensible world around me that I should be able to turn to Your praise; but I cannot do it. Yet at some insipid moment when I may possibly be thinking of floor wax or pigeon eggs, the opening of a beautiful prayer may come up from my subconscious and lead me to write something exalted. I am not a philosopher or I could understand these things. If I knew all of myself, dear God… what would I be then?” —Flannery O’Connor, A Prayer Journal, 7
“The Flight of the Swallows” (1906) by John Henry Lorimer. Four girls in white gossamer gowns cluster near an opulent window. Long shadows fall upon the roof outside. The swallows are leaving, taking wing just beyond the pane, and the light is golden but soon to fade. Gilded mirrors refract the dying light, and one of the girls sits apart, her face in her hands, and cries. A French quotation inscribed on the bronze frame speaks of the loss of innocence.
Lord, my BRP isn’t here yet. I need the BRP to open a bank account. I need a bank account to receive my student loan surplus. I need the student loan surplus to pay my rent. I need the bank account to get a contactless debit card. I need the debit card to take the bus, purchase a new phone plan, and pay for my utilities. I need the big spiders gone in my apartment. I need the power to come back on because I need to use my fridge and washing machine. I need—
And God says, Do you think I do not already know what you need, dear one?
And are you so sure those are your true needs after all?
“My mind is in a little box, dear God, down inside other boxes inside other boxes and on and on. There is very little air in my box. Dear God, please give me as much air as it is not presumptuous to ask for. Please let some light shine out of all the things around me.” —Flannery O’Connor, A Prayer Journal, 17
“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us. Selah.” —Psalm 62:5-6,8 (ESV)