I always thought I came to Jesus on May 11.
It was Mother’s Day 1975. I was eleven.
That’s what the baptismal certificate says, anyway.
The Saturday night before, I called my parents into my bedroom. They sat on either side and my scrawny legs hung off the side of my twin bed with the wadded up blankets because I didn’t then, and do not now, find much use in straightening sheets that would just mess up again. I told them I knew it was time. I cried.
I’d seen it done. You were supposed to cry.
They asked good questions like good parents do, the same questions a dozen different ways like a standardized test smokes out the con, making sure I didn’t just have a mind to follow lemmings off a cliff. They probed to see if it was really now, offering to wait for a better time, perhaps for summer camp. But I knew the tank at the front of the church beckoned with its tepid water week after week, whether anyone cared to dip their sinful toes in it or not. And like the eunuch with Philip on the desert road to Gaza, it made sense to say “Look, here is water.”
So I did.
I slipped into a waiting pool that seemed the centerpiece of a quiet sanctuary that sat strangely parallel to roaring highway. The water pressed against my head and plugged my ears, replacing my relief at the cleansing with the drumming that wanted to say the water was prepared for someone else.
In the end, I came to Jesus not really knowing how I got there.
Just weeks before, I rode home from the neighborhood Superette, hoping the cold can of grape Shasta tucked between my chin and my chest didn’t fly out into traffic while I pedaled and bounced along on my tan three-speed from J C Penney’s. I begged Jesus to delay his imminent return just a little longer. Please.
What I knew troubled me. What I didn’t know haunted me.
I could recite you the terms of the Gospel in four-part harmony. I caught on easily enough to the why of my need. But the waters muddied around the how grace comes down part. I lacked sufficient behavioral currency to buy me even a tattered bag of mercy. So please, Jesus, don’t come back until I can be good enough to pray that prayer and take that walk and plunge my filthy neck into the water.
The older I get the more I don’t know when I came to Jesus. I suspect it was long before I skulked down the aisle and stepped in the water. It was probably before I sat on the bed with my parents, hiccuping tears over my sinful estate. Even before I drank the grape Shasta and asked him to tarry for my stubborn sake.
I’ve just never known what I was doing.
I still don’t.
Some days I think I’m still coming, that I haven’t made it quite to the front row of pews. Other days I’m not sure I’ve even left my seat.
I’m still reading Buechner, you know? He always has a way of making me rethink what I already thought I knew and get a little more comfortable with the things I still don’t.
And if he is the truth and the life, we will find it out soon enough for ourselves, you can be sure of that, if we want to find it out, if we are willing to draw near in whatever idiotic way we can, all our reservations and doubts notwithstanding, because little by little we find out then that to be where he is, to go where he goes, to see through eyes and work with hands like his, is to feel like ourselves at last, is to become more fully ourselves at last and fully each other’s at last, and to become finally more even than that: to become fully his at last. ^
No matter the idiotic ways I go about looking for him, Jesus always steps out in front of my bike. I’ve noticed, though, that he seems to prefer the Shasta cola.
Photo: train tracks to I don't know where ^ Buechner, Frederick. "The Sign by the Highway." The Hungering Dark. New York: Seabury, 1969. 68. Print.