Pat Conroy writes with all the color of Vincent van Gogh.
I have been strolling through My Reading Life by Mr. Conroy. He has the kind of vocabulary one needs for the final round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. When it comes to words, there is no peanut butter and jelly with Conroy, he only serves Filet Mignon.
I read Pat Conroy with my dictionary open, and for good reason. He employs words I do not understand, words such as clochard (a beggar, vagrant, or tramp), desiccated (dehydrated looking), sangfroid (coolness of mind, calmness, compassion), pallid (pale, faint, or deficient in color, lacking vitality), demimonde (a class or group characterized by a lack of success), and peripatetic (moving or traveling from place to place). Reading Pat Conroy is like visiting the circus. His words perform acrobatic feats.
Why does he do this? I don't believe it is to showcase his verbal dexterity or to unlock his treasure chest of adjectives and adverbs for all the world to see. I think he is attempting to explain the unexplainable intricacies of life. Words are the way he does this.
Conroy teaches me that the English language is an enchanted forest for those who are willing to explore it. Most times I keep a safe distance, even though it is that difficult and mysterious journey that promises sights that dazzle and sounds that mesmerize.
Many people approach God the way they do the English language:
"Put the cookies on the lower shelf, please! Make it simple. I don't want to work too hard to understand."
We want God packaged, labeled, and clearly marked. We demand simple answers to complex questions.
Why do we expect this?
There are an estimated 16,500 species of marine fish.1 There are Wahoo and Blue tang surgeonfish, Saddleback clownfish, Sargos and Yellowtail Grunts. I need a degree in Latin to decipher their scientific names. They are brilliant in color, fascinating in shape, exquisite in design. I cannot begin to comprehend the complexities of the sea, but I want the God who created it all to be simple, explainable, tame, and without mystery.
God is kind, but He is not tame. He makes himself known, but we will never figure him out. Not now -- not ever. He is God. You cannot dissect him.
Job learned this the hard way. Job endured Satan's fury so that God could prove a point. Initially, Job took his lumps without complaint and without blaming God. But when he cried out to heaven and heaven was silent, Job began to gripe. Disgusted with God's inexplicable absence, Job erupts in frustration . . . until God responds.
In Job 38-41, God rattles off a barrage of questions for which Job has no answer. Here is a very small portion of that inquisition.
“Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this.
“Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness, that you may take it to its territory and that you may discern the paths to its home?You know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great!
Job 38:16-21 ESV
Commenting on this passage, Philip Yancey writes,
The message behind the splendid poetry boils down to this: Until you know a little more about running the physical universe, Job, don't tell me how to run the moral universe.2
I have at least 128 volumes in the theology section of my library alone -- and my library is paltry compared to most. Why so many books? Because, like Conroy, theologians have trouble explaining the unexplainable. So we devote words and pages and volumes and libraries to capture a thimble of His greatness.
No wonder David stood in awe and exclaimed:
Oh LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.
Psalm 8:1 ESV
1 "How Many Fish In The Sea? Census Of Marine Life Launches First Report," in ScienceDaily, October 24, 2003. www.sciencedaily.com. Accessed March 4, 2012. 2 Philip Yancey, Disappointment With God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), page 190.