“Greenleaf’s Bull” by Jeffery Dale Starr.
Boy, have I missed writing at This Odd House these past many weeks. Ironically, I’ve done more writing than ever since I last posted here in January. To be exact, I’ve written–in collaboration with my beloved coauthor and husband–53,537 words of what is currently called 20 Things We Would Have Told Our 20-Something Selves. We turned the manuscript into the publisher last week. We just heard this morning that the acquisitions editor is happy with it. (Phew!) And if all goes according to plan, the book will be released in October.
It was quite a process, writing that book. I’ll share more about that journey–what God did in and around us–in a future post. But for now I am just eager to say, “Hi! I’m still here.” And “How are you?”
For me, this is the most meaningful week of the year. Holy Week. I’m sure many of you will agree.
A part of me wishes that I could just stop every else in my life this week and spend all of my time meditating on what Christ did for us on the cross. But another part of me recognizes–as I go to work and do laundry and grocery shop and try to parent two littles while I have laryngitis (a simultaneously frustrating and futile and amusing exercise)–that this is exactly the cock-eyed and crazy world He came to save.
So we do what we can this week to allow the truth of His death and resurrection penetrate our hard hearts and our loony lives.
Several years ago I spent Holy Week memorizing a dramatic monologue that I had been asked to deliver to my church on Easter morning. The monologue was of Mary Magdalene, meeting her risen Lord at the tomb. As I spent that entire week absorbed in her story, I connected with my own redemption in a way more real and raw. I lived it through her.
This week I find myself absorbed in a very different, but similarly centering, story. Flannery O’Connor’s “Greenleaf.” It’s one of my personal favorites. I wrote about why in this blog post several months ago: “(Pregnancy. Miscarriage.) Epiphany.”
In the story, the protagonist Mrs. May works tirelessly to protect and control her farm, her family, her entire world. And she is irritated to no end with a bull that repeatedly invades her property. The bull is a type of Christ, pictured in the opening scene standing outside her window with a crown of thorns caught in his horns. Throughout the story, the bull persistently penetrates the fences and the hedges that Mrs. May throws up to keep him out. But he will not be thwarted.
At the story’s climax, Mrs. May commands her hired hand, Mr. Greenleaf, to join her in the pasture where he must shoot the bull. But instead–as Mrs. May sits on the front fender of her vehicle, waiting for Mr. Greenleaf to do the deed–the bull charges at Mrs. May.
In O’Connor’s own words: “She stared at the violent black streak bounding toward her as if she had no sense of distance, as if she could not decide at once what his intention was, and the bull had buried his head in her lap, like a wild tormented lover, before her expression changed. One of his horns sank until it pierced her heart and the other curved around her side and held her in an unbreakable grip. She continued to stare straight ahead but the entire scene in front of her had changed–the tree line was a dark wound in a world that was nothing but sky–and she had the look of a person whose sight has been suddenly restored but who finds the light unbearable.”
That is our Lord. Patient, persistent, and penetrating. He pursues us to the most painful places because He knows that is where we are most ready to meet Him face to face. He simultaneously pierces our heart and cradles us close.
That is also why Holy Week matters so much. Because the cross is the ultimate evidence of this.
This week I’m working with several of my students to prepare a readers’ theater performance of “Greenleaf.” We’ll be presenting to our student body in our chapel service on April 15, and I pray that God speaks to them through it in the same way He spoke to me. I pray He uses the story to pierce their hearts as He used it to pierce mine.
If you haven’t read the story, try to get your hands on a copy this weekend.
Alternatively, in 2011 I performed an oral interpretation of cuttings from the story, after which Peter preached on the life of Jacob. You can find an MP3 of the whole presentation here.
Have a blessed Easter weekend!