Saturday, August 24, 2013

Harboring the Unexpected

Believe it or not, I like how quiet it is.

I am fine that most people who “know me well” do not regularly come to Writing Cabin. I presume they have their own ways of knowing me, some of them ways that may not yet have occurred to me but that have proven perfectly reliable and effective over the years.

Would anything I write here prove unexpected to those people who know me well?

On my part, I like when I meet someone who can recite a new poem to me or the text of an unfamiliar hymn. Words that I have not learned, words that have not yet found a customary place in my heart, can summon a silence within and I come to attention. I become aware of the unexpected.

I suspect I need the unexpected. I suspect I count on the possibility of there being something I have not even imagined.

Two weeks ago a friend was driving me through the mountains of North Carolina. We began talking on a topic that would have been unexpected in most car rides on a Saturday morning. We were talking about experiencing the peace of God when my friend recited a line from a hymn in the Episcopal hymnal: “The peace of God, it is no peace…”

At signs of my interest he recited all four stanzas, his hands on the steering wheel, eyes on the road:

They cast their nets in Galilee
just off the hills of brown;
such happy, simple fisherfolk,
before the Lord came down.

Contented, peaceful fishermen,
before they ever knew
the peace of God that filled their hearts
brimful, and broke them too.

Young John who trimmed the flapping sail,
homeless in Patmos died,
Peter, who hauled the teeming net,
head-down was crucified.

The peace of God, it is no peace,
but strife closed in the sod,
Yet let us pray for but one thing --
the marvelous peace of God.

On the passenger’s side of the front seat, I felt silence within when the end of the second stanza mentions the peace of God and how it breaks the hearts of the first disciples. I felt the silence deepen at the close of the hymn when the summons comes to pray “for but one thing --/the marvelous peace of God.”

The car kept up its speed over the interstate highway through the mountains.

Home in New England, I kept thinking of the hymn without being able to recite its four stanzas the way my friend had. An online search brought me face to face with the words composed by William Alexander Percy. It brought me face to face with another name, a familiar one – that of novelist Walker Percy, whose uncle and guardian this Will Percy had been.

On a visit to a favorite used-book store on Cape Cod two summers back, I had purchased a one-volume history of the Percy family of Greenville, Mississippi. At the time my interest had been in the forebears of Walker Percy. This past week I went looking through the apartment for the soft-cover edition by historian Bertram Wyatt-Brown. I was curious whether something as unexpected as a mention of “They Cast Their Nets in Galilee” might occur there.

Of course it did.

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