Alan Jones, in his book Passion for Pilgrimage: Notes for the Journey Home (1989), displays an amazing depth of reading! Often we pass over quotes as if they did not come from anywhere. So I thought it would be interesting to peel back the cover of Jones’ work and shine a light on seven people he references. As you will see, he thinks all his listening to authors and artists is listening to the Spirit at work in them. As he keeps saying: “God has fallen in love with you and wants you to come home.” Let’s see how far we get with that.

Today’s Bible reading

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the disciples had gathered together and locked the doors of the place because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders.Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.” And after he said this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained.”

Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he replied, “Unless I see the wounds from the nails in his hands, and put my finger into the wounds from the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe it!”

Eight days later the disciples were again together in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and examine my hands. Extend your hand and put it into my side. Do not continue in your unbelief, but believe.” Thomas replied to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are the people who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Now Jesus performed many other miraculous signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. – John 20:19-31 NET

More thoughts for meditation about John Cheever (1912-1982)

John Cheever wrote short stories with sentences filled with light and nature like this:

“The world that was not mine yesterday now lies spread out at my feet, a splendor. I seem, in the middle of the night, to have returned to the world of apples, the orchards of Heaven. Perhaps I should take my problems to a shrink, or perhaps I should enjoy the apples that I have, streaked with color like the evening sky.” (The journals of John Cheever and all over the internet)

Five years before he died Cheever finally stopped drinking. Some people thought he then began to do his best work, especially his novel Falconer. His daughter thinks he would have finally come out as bisexual had he lived longer. He began to collect awards.

After he died his voluminous journals revealed what had really been going on all those years behind his presentation as a wry, suburban observer and generous moralist.

In a well-known interview with John Hershey of the New York Times in 1977 he offered some thoughts about how he saw his faith.

JH: Your voice has a blurted quality—shifts, ellipses, disjunctions.

JC: I have always felt there is some ungainliness in my person, some ungainliness in my spiritual person that I cannot master. Perhaps you mean that….

[Hershey does not follow that but stays with his style, then comes back]

JH: Your spiritual person…

JC: I have been a churchgoer for most of my adult life —a liturgical churchgoer. I am very happy with Cranmer’s “The Book of Common Prayer.” The current schisms of the church concern me not at all. It seems to be one of God’s infinite mercies that the sexual disposition of the priest has never been my concern. The religious experience is very much my concern, as it seems to me it is the legitimate concern of any adult who has experienced love….

{Hershey ignores this and asks him about his desk, but later gets back to the spiritual characteristic in almost all of Cheever’s writings]

JH: Fire suggests fear. I see another kind of light in your writing—more joyous.

JC: The whiteness of light. In the church, you know, that always represents the Holy Spirit. It seems to me that man’s inclination toward light, toward brightness, is very nearly botanical—and I mean spiritual light. One not only needs it, one struggles for it. It seems to me almost that one’s total experience is the drive toward light. Or, in the case of the successful degenerate, the drive into an ultimate darkness, which presumably will result in light. Yes. My fondness for light is very, very strong and, I presume, primitive. But isn’t it true of us all?

Suggestions for action from Alan Jones

“The Resurrection is not, in the first instance, a puzzling doctrine over which to make an intellectual decision. It is an invitation to life and to live now. Our journey has, in part, been to teach how much we dread and long for this new life.

What John Cheever claimed about the proper function of writing can be said of the purpose of the believing community. ‘The proper function of writing, if possible, is to enlarge people, to give them their risk, if possible to give them their divinity, not to cut them down.’ This is precisely the inner work of the Resurrection. It is the power of God giving us our risk, enlarging our hearts, and, thereby, breathing new life into us. That is why I rely on the Spirit’s marvelous working in novelists, poets, and other artists. John Cheever came to realize that his calling was to be an agent of the Spirit. ‘I think one has the choice with imagery either to enlarge or diminish. At this point I find diminishment deplorable. When I was younger I thought it brilliant.’ The imagery of the Christian Drama has been for our enlargement. It speaks to our longings and stretches our capacity for awe. It sows the seed of faith.

Easter brings together images of our woundedness and our longing for peace, for home, for glory. When Jesus appeared to his disciples (in John 20:19-31) he said, ‘Peace be with you!’ and then showed them his hands and his side. There is no peace without wounds, no peace without responsibility, no peace without the risk of being sent off to god knows where. There is no peace without the goad and the irritant of the Spirit. There is no private peace while others suffer, no peace without forgiveness and judgment.”

Do you “dread and long” for this new life of the resurrection? Some of our hearts might need to be “enlarged” in order to contain such a feeling. We might be a bit tamped down or avoidant — at least distracted by endless shopping, entertainment and porn possibilities. Spend some time with the alcoholic Cheever and see if you are ready to quit something and get some peace from Jesus.

Today is Ignatius of Loyola Day. Learn about the great disciple-maker at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body.