Finding “the thing”

Posted on Wednesday 8 April 2009

My friend Christine and I have marked our calendars in permanent ink to meet for one day in October and one in April. We set aside these fall and spring days for our “pilgrimage” to a tiny Texas town called Round Top, where, with thousands of others, we comb acres in search of magic. Twice a year, Round Top and its encroaching hamlets are the scene of what is formally called “Antique Weekend.” But we typically skip past the high-end antiques and go straight for the junk … or if we’re lucky, the treasure.

Past years have yielded a stereoscope, a bread box, a dirt-cheap pair of pink and peach Elsa Schiaparelli clip on earrings, a folk art cigar box, a Bible bookplate of Luther at Worms, and a graphite drawing of a Japanese Chin that looked just like my beloved Chester.

Each year, we have our eyes peeled for what we’ve come to call “the thing.” It’s the thing that everyone is buying – some quirky, manufactured something that hits the shopping sweet spot for whatever reason. Maybe it’s a tiny bag made from the shank of an old boot, or a gotta-have-it t-shirt. No matter what it is, everyone seems to be carrying one home.

Only, that’s not our thing. Our thing is finding “the thing” that perfectly pulls together the ends of our random likes into one discreet, perfect whole. Finding it is unlikely, but knowing it when you find it is certain. It could be anywhere. You have to keep your eyes open to all possibilities.

This year, at a rambling roadside shed called “Clutter,” I found “the thing.” As I wandered through the place I kept seeing illustrated sheets of what might have been a Bible teacher’s “show” book – the larger than life book a teacher might hold out to face a circle of students to whom she was reading. The first few sheets I saw had titles like “Traveling” and “Working” and “Building.” Each had an ink and water-colored illustration, and a paragraph about the topic below it, relating the subject to “Bible times.” They were tempting, but none of them really resonated. Until I stumbled on the one that said “Writing.”

The birdseed type at the bottom of the page said “Writing” was number 8 in a series of “Manners and Customs” published “under the direction of the Committee of General Literature and Education, appointed by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge” in London.

The text described how children in the East learned to write: in the sand, then on leaves of trees, perhaps – or on skins, or parchment. “This,” I read, “made their books very dear, so that each person could not have a book of his own.” It ended with these words: “We ought to thank God that printing has made books so cheap, that even a poor man may buy a Bible for himself, and read it at home; and that there are kind and rich people, who get books printed for the poor; so that every poor child may learn to read the word of God.”

For me, that was “the thing.” For $10, I carried home a neat amalgamation of my love of God, books, writing, His Word, and one-of-a-kind things that tell a story. My letter-pressed book sheet that fluttered in the April breeze synchronized several loves at once. The best things always do.
And every one of them is an echo of the one, truest, most perfect thing:

“At noon the sky became extremely dark. The darkness lasted three hours. At three o’clock, Jesus groaned out of the depths, crying loudly, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ Which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’ … But Jesus, with a loud cry, gave his last breath. At that moment the Temple curtain ripped right down the middle. When the Roman captain standing guard in front of him saw that he had quit breathing, he said, ‘This has to be the Son of God.””

Does it get anymore perfect than that? My sin, his righteousness, a spotless sacrifice and a triumphant resurrection? It doesn’t. I can stop looking there.

“Don’t be afraid. I know you’re looking for Jesus the Nazarene, the One they nailed on the cross. He’s been raised up; he is here no longer.You can see for yourselves the place is empty. Now – on your way. Tell his disciples and Peter that he is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You’ll see him there, exactly as he said.” (Mark 16:6-7, The Message).

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