This past weekend I felt some of the worst pain I've ever felt in my life, and as someone who had cancer, appendicitis and various infections in remote, Third World villages without medical care, I am not unfamiliar with pain.
I've been dealing with a lot of medical stuff the past few years. In the midst of all that a new symptom developed. It didn't seem immediately terminal so in between all the surgeries and deaths this new symptom didn't receive the attention it might have received otherwise. A couple of doctors ordered some tests, but nothing was determinative.
More doctor visits and tests, I am confident, will provide me with a diagnosis and treatment. Meanwhile, all I can think about this morning is how hurt my body is, and how worried I am about what happens next.
But, my goal is to start every day in Lent with this blog. What card should turn up but the knight of coins. This is good.
The knight of coins is boring, plodding, and reliable. No flashes of inspiration from him. He will, unlike St. Francis of Assisi, never receive the stigmata. He will not, unlike St. Teresa of Avila, ever experience God as ecstasy.
The knight of coins is the guy who shows up, every day, and does what needs doing. He's the boy who, in high school, the girls aren't all that interested in. The girls' mothers say, "He's the guy you should date. Not the bad boy. Not the captain of the football team. Not the sensitive, beautifully androgynous poet. Him. Mr. Reliable." High school girls are constitutionally deaf to these words from the more knowledgeable matrons and crones.
Yesterday, when the pain was really bad, I hated God. God, I suspect, is underwhelmed. He knows that I am going to show up again today.
That's the knight of coins part of faith. Showing up every day to pray, to apply Christian teaching to your life, no matter how much the world is going to hell.
My mother was like this. She also hated and cursed God at times. Certainly when her two sons died in the prime of their lives. But she showed up, to clean the church, to staff the booths at the annual carnival, to bring food and to deliver bags of clothes to neighbors who needed it – it always astounded me how she managed to turn up people who were even poorer than we were. My mother was very fond of 2 Timothy 4:7 "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."
As a Slovak, that is, as someone born in a cottage built by hand by her father, at the edge of vast fields, plunked down in a tumultuous part of the world, she knew that just showing up is the better part of the fight. No matter what is going on, the cow needs milking and the crops need tending.
I don't have a cow. I act out my inner Christian knight of coins by resolving to pray the rosary every day, no matter whether I love God or not, no matter whether I feel inspired or not, no matter whether my own personal "sea of faith" "Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled" or whether my own faith is sounding "its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, retreating, to the breath of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear and naked shingles of the world," as Matthew Arnold wrote in "Dover Beach."