“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[b] neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Romans 8:38-39).
In Cormac McCarthy’s novel, The Road, times are dire. Desolation and destruction are all that is left of a once vibrant world. Humanity is in shreds. The planet is gasping for its last breath. In this post-apocalyptic setting, people are not to be trusted; scarcity overtakes goodness. Basic needs go unmet, bringing out primal greed. There is a moment of reprieve when the protagonists, the man and the boy (they are unnamed in the novel), come across a waterfall. For those who don’t know this story, McCarthy writes of a time when our world has been decimated by a catastrophic event. Nothing can grow in the radiated land scape and cities are in ruin. The people who are left on Earth are hungry. There is an unending grayness, no glimpses of the sun. Despair overtakes hope. Yet, in the novel there are these moments of beautiful depth. The man and boy travel on the road together, father and son, in search of the sea, trying to escape the bitter winter.
After many days of hardship and toil, they come across a body of water. The boy stares in awe, for he was born in the grayness, never knowing the “Before Times.” Father and son swim together, splashing in the cleansing water. This is an arguable moment of joy, a glimpse of God. My understanding is that McCarthy is not a religious man. Still, he captures the essence of rebirth and renewal in his raw and meaningful words. In his cunning understanding of humanity, I find there is a means to honest grace. For me, this interlude in the novel between father, son, and water speaks of Baptism or perhaps, Communion. The hellish moments of a hopeless life are washed away in nature’s beauty; in a reconnection of self to other, and to God.
There is a log cabin in Maine that has become a sanctuary. A brook runs near it, meandering its way to the lake. Sometimes in a rush, other times in a quiet breath. The water is clear, and when the sun shines the lake sparkles. As the shadows fall in the afternoon, colors shift and move, creating a beauty that is breath-taking. I find solace in nature’s strength. I have since I was a young child. When I was made fun of, excluded, or ignored, I found hope in God’s enormity, God’s creation. When I felt alone and sad, hurt, and despised, I found a love greater than, in the soothing waters of a lake. When I felt ashamed in my body, scared, and isolated, when I felt abandoned, the trees raised their branches high reminding me of humanity’s smallness, and God’s greatness. During a time of desolation and guilt, one minister reminded me of the Bible verse, Romans 8:38-39. Hearing it from her, it landed hard. It was transformative.
Indeed, times are hard. The Election is upon us. Where is God? Returning to the harsh landscape of The Road, there is no garden of repose, no flower to breathe into. Yet, despite this, a distinct grace emerges in the fleeting moments of human connection. In the goodness of others, despite terrible circumstances. How hard it is to make generative and life-giving choices when we feel under siege. Yet this may be the very thing, the crux of it all.
Beauty and breath emerge, reminding us of that which is eternal. The cleansing waterfall sings, even when there is seemingly no hope. It is something to live for, dear people. God’s communion is forever. God’s love is eternal. There is nothing, no nothing, that can change this ancient truth. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. This understanding stops me in my tracks, and it pulses deep within.
Jennifer Stuart is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. She serves as a community minister at First Church in Cambridge, MA, UCC. Jennifer, a clinical social worker specializing in psychological trauma, is a psychotherapist at the Danielsen Institute at Boston University.