Tuesday, March 18, 2008

How to Speak to an Evangelist, by Annie Dillard

Annie Dillard has gone for a ramble. She is crossing a field when she sees a “little boy … He looked to be about eight, thin, wearing a brown corduroy jacket … and a matching beaked corduroy cap with big earflaps … The boy and I talked over the barbed wire.” They talked about the boy’s dogs, the horses (one had a new foal). “Then he paused. He looked miserably at his shoetops, and I looked at his brown corduroy cap. Suddenly the cap lifted, and the little face said in a rush, ‘Do you know the Lord as your personal savior?’

“’Not only that,’ I said, ‘I know your mother.’ … She had asked me the same question.”

Dillard remembers stopping at the front of the house to ask permission to walk across the field. “That was a year ago. … The driveway made a circle in front of the house, and in the circle stood an eight-foot aluminum cross with a sign underneath it reading CHRIST THE LORD IS OUR SALVATION. Spotlights in the circle’s honeysuckle were trained up at the cross and the sign. I rang the bell.

“The woman was very nervous. She was dark, pretty, hard, with the same trembling lashes as the boy. She wore a black dress and one brush roller in the front of her hair. She did not ask me in.” At first she seemed confused by Dillard’s request, then granted it, but “she was worried about something else. She worked her hands … ‘Do you know the Lord as your personal savior?’

“My heart went out to her. … She must have to ask this of everyone, absolutely everyone, she meets. That is Christian witness. It makes sense, given its premises. I wanted to make her as happy as possible, reward her courage, and run.

“She was stunned that I knew the Lord, and clearly uncertain whether we were referring to the same third party.”

I have the same uncertainty. Dillard’s version of God, despite her suggestion that it’s the Christian one, strikes me as a good deal odder and colder than the one “the Reverend Jerry Falwell’s congregation” would feel cozy with. “She drove, I inferred, 120 miles round trip to go to church.” Despite her doubts about Dillard, the perpetual evangelist relaxed on assurance of the safety of another soul, Dillard says. Of course she had to press into Dillard’s hands a few educational pamphlets. Dillard claims to believe, “the one on the Holy Spirit … was good.”

source: “On a Hill Far Away” in Annie Dillard’s Teaching a Stone to Talk

No comments: