We sing because Isaac felt left out. Caleb practices piano, Eli the violin. I sit with Eli as he practices, pushing his fingers to their proper positions, helping him with rhythm, chastising him when he claims a sudden injury that prevents him from playing another note. Isaac hovers when I do this, alternately jumping off furniture, or bellowing a made-up song to accompany Eli’s squeaking strings, or hanging upside down from a nearby chair and asking when we will be finished.
None of our other children were like this, but he is like this. This is Isaac.
So he feels included, I have taken to giving Isaac his own music practice in the evenings. He stands in front of me, his hands in mine, and we sing “Jesus Loves Me.” His mother gave him a small notepad, and I put colorful stickers of musical notes in it, one for each week of practice.
It’s no secret that I get very little out of church lately. Recent sermons I’ve endured explain that this is my fault. The church reading groups ubiquitous in modern white evangelical America hold little more appeal, given my fondness for Frederick Buechner over Doug Wilson. There’s room in God’s kingdom for both, mind you, but I confess that there are times when I wonder if there is room for me. I am an alien when I walk into a Christian bookstore, and sickened when I listen to Christian radio, and often a stranger in my own church.
Please understand that I am content to live this way, though I understand it is likely an indication of some perversity in my soul. A good Christian is supposed to revel in a fellowship of believers, we men are to be iron sharpening iron, and so on. Though I rail against tribality in our culture, I am the most ferociously tribal of men, for my tribe is seven strong, and I find far more rest in a lazy breakfast with them than in most Sunday sermons.
But where, in a world that has lost its vision, will I find God, if not in sermons and tidy Calvinist pamphlets? Mother Teresa, we now know, called him the Absent One. I would be lying if I told you that I don’t instantly suspect the spiritual depth of anyone who claims never to have experienced the Saudade Deus, the God who is known by his absence. This is my arrogance born of suffering, that I imagine I can identify with the one who cried: Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani.
So where is God found? He finds us, of course, as he always has, from the beginning, and will to the end, because a parent seeks his children without ceasing. But listen close, and I will tell you where I saw him last. It was just yesterday evening, when Isaac placed his fresh-washed hands in my palms, his face strangely peace-filled, and sang to me in his warbly voice. Here is God, I thought. Do you want to find God? Then look up from your books and theologies, if you can bear it, for God is here.