We were out late one night, just over a year ago, walking beneath the low-hanging trees alight in Christmastime. An ordinary shopping strip, planned as an open-air market, a patch of verdant blades in its center softened by stony copper faces, children cast in metal at play, a small donkey on the outskirt, which no one seemed to be able to account for. She had dated a boy, maybe three or so years ago, who was Roman Catholic. He had tried repeatedly to convert her and I remember a particular day like this one, only years before, when we sped down the highway and she told me this. I don’t remember what I said. She the liberal Muslim, I the conservative Christian; we were close to best friends for a time and I’m sure, at some point, I said something about Jesus.
I know I did.
At one point, I gave her Francine River’s Redeeming Love because I heard it being recommended with frequency.
She read twelve pages and then set it aside. I didn’t understand why, until I read six pages and did the same. I admit, now, that I wanted the book to convert her.
But that had been years before, now behind us, and we had just seen Black Swan in the little art house theater and now talked casually about our time away from each other at university.
She was north of me, in another world and time, and it amazed me that life should go on for each of us without a sense of interruption. She was finding difficulty balancing faith and relationship, a struggle I knew intimately. We chatted about this, about genetic disorders passed through the mother--she is a scientist, at the time, she was a research assistant for a large, NSF-funded study, about something we had both read recently in The New Yorker.
We talked a bit about the movie, too. I said it brought to mind the cycle of sin, how something takes hold, takes root, and then eventually blossoms. Blossoms, then gives you over to death.
We talked about Jesus. I talked. She listened in a detached sort of way, a question itching. I think I made mention of something in John 4, the woman at the well, my favorite story, and then she broke in--
“Do you think I’m going to Hell because I’m a Muslim?”
And in a fraction of a second, I failed her. I paused and looked sober, which I felt full and true, and murmured, “I wish you hadn’t asked me that. Yes.”
I hurried to fill it in, but it was said. Truth. But not all truth is love. At least, not in every context.
I don’t remember much of how that evening ended.
I think it was on one of the benches in that open-air market, overlooking that verdant patch of life. I think we said something to each other about our shared belief in love and Love. I think we made mends to ripped hearts. I think we said some important things, which now float beyond my reach and live, somewhere, in that place of hope that is always just beyond the circle of my reach.
I have replayed this evening in the past. I have taken each moment carefully to account. I looked up the article we had chatted about from The New Yorker, a piece about the HIV crisis and the problem of contraceptive measures in third world countries. I searched the name of the study she was working on, which I came to learn involved mice as test subjects and was concerned principally with diabetes.
I gathered all the facts. I have all the evidence.
But I cannot undo what was done.
Where was Christ in those moments of fragment conversation? Where was Christ for me? Not for me in the sense of His obligation to me, but for me in my sense of obligation Him?
I wonder, because I think if I should have been faithful in showing Him, the question of Hell wouldn’t have been what was asked.
I’m not sure what I should have told her, but it wasn’t what I said.
I’m not sure what I should have shown her, but whatever I did show over the years wasn’t what I should have.
We talk now and then, half hoped plans, but we don’t really see each other anymore. I still have that article from The New Yorker in a folder somewhere in my desk, along with a recipe for lemon squares.
I bought a Qur'an a few weeks after that conversation and began to read it. It’s now numbered in a pile of books in my room, next to a book about medieval feminism and another about Baptist roots in England.
On days I don’t know how to pray for her, I pull out that Qur’an and hold it against my heart, ask the Father of us all to show Himself in the incarnate Christ to her, and weep for those things said when the heart couldn’t trouble the words from an imprudent mouth.
Christ have mercy. Christ have mercy.
Please forgive a bit of sporadic engagement with you this week. I'm away shooting video and photos for the Baptist association's amazing preteen camp. However, spotty WIFI turned into no WIFI and I'm iPad and iPhone 3G-dependent. If that. It is the woods, y'all. What this means aside from not aways being able to respond well to you here is also that I'm not always able to hop over and read your words, your blog. Looking forward to catching up and, thank you all in advance, for being patient with my inbox response time.