On Friday night we drove to our friends’ house for a baptism, and half the church was there to celebrate it. Fredérique is a college chemistry teacher who studied the Bible for four years (only doing so because her husband is a member of our church). She is analytical, scientific, rational. She was a confirmed atheist.
We arrived with our food contributions for the huge buffet that was to follow, and walked down the narrow cobblestone street where our friends live. When we arrived, there were so many people that I hadn’t expected to see there – so many people I didn’t realise had made such a big impact on Fredérique’s life. But then, when you’re part of a church for 6 years, and actively studying the Bible for 4, you tend to make some strong connections.
A bunch of people shared about Fred’s transformation, including her twin sons, Paul and Simon. These rough and tumble 12-year old boys, who I’ve only ever seen wrestling, running, fighting, yelling, and playing soccer, sounded like cherubs when they encouraged their mother about the change they saw in her, thanking Emma and Eugene for studying the Bible with her, and then coming up to hug her. Fred’s husband, Emmanuel, took her face in his hands and called her, “the wife of my youth”. They met in 7th grade.
When it was time for Fredérique to share, she did so for about ten minutes. She spoke about how she came to the hard-won conclusion that God exists. She shared-
how she decided to make two camps, the “for” and the “against,” but found that for every “for” she could find an “against”, and quoted Pascale who discovered long before her that for every sign of the existence of God you can find a parallel sign to contradict it.
how Emma and Eugene told her to search in her heart. God is in the heart. She has to feel it in her heart, not know it in her brain. “But there must be something wrong with me because I don’t feel it. I feel nothing. How can I have act on something I don’t feel?”
how she decided to start putting the Bible into practice, and found to her amazement that when she spoke patiently to her husband instead of yelling at him, or when she apologised to her children when she as wrong (for example) that it worked – and how she rationed that she could just put the Bible into practice like a recipe, without actually believing it. But no, it doesn’t work that way.
and how, finally, she decided to focus on love, which is an emotion that doesn’t come from the earth and cannot be explained away,
how she would do anything for her own family, and started to believe that perhaps God felt the same way for her,
how she saw the love of the people in the church who wanted to get to know her, and came over after work to teach her the Bible every week, and who wanted to be her friend, year after year, even when there was no “result”.
And how she finally came to believe that if the existence of God can be explained at all, it is through love. And so that was what she would focus on.
There were many kids there on Friday night, and we didn’t leave until after dark. As we were heading out, William said, “We have to get my (disgusting, large, toxic rubber) spider. I threw it and it went over the fence.” (italics mine).
The old-fashioned street lamps didn’t give much illumination on the cobblestone street, so we took out our iPhones to use the flashlight function, and started searching under parked cars, in the clumps of grass, behind the trees that bordered the narrow street.
“Are you sure, honey? It doesn’t seem to be here? Maybe you threw it behind the hedge on the other side of the fence.”
“No, no, it went over the fence,” insisted six-year old William.
Our pastor and his wife came out, John and Carol. They are young “empty-nesters” – an American couple who came to Europe 25 years ago to help start the church in Paris and Brussels before going back to raise their kids in Boston. Now that all of their kids are out of the home, they came back to strengthen us since our little congregation had been without a minister for ten years. We needed them.
John heard what happened, and immediately took out his iPhone flashlight and started searching.
William was anxious, and ran back into the yard to see if the spider had indeed gone behind the hedge on the inside.
“William, let’s pray!” Carol called out. He paused, looked back at her doubtfully, but then turned away again. “William, let’s pray,” she said again. And though he was beginning to look under the hedges, she said loud enough for him to hear, “God, please help us to find William’s spider. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.”
“Amen,” I said. But after a few more minutes’ search, we found nothing and John and Carol headed down the cobblestone street to the train, and disappeared over the hill.
“We’re not going to abandon the cause,” said Juliet.
“We are going to abandon it,” said her mother,
faithlessly prosaically. I wanted to go home.
The whole family turned to walk up the hill towards the car, and William reluctantly followed. Just then we heard, “William! William!”
We looked back and saw two silhouettes, outlined by the old street lamps, running up the hill hand-in-hand, and yelling, “William! We found your spider!”
“No way,” my husband muttered.
When they arrived, breathless, with the spider, William was in a state of shock. “It’s not my spider,” he said, disappointed. “The end is all squished.”
“It is your spider,” my husband said. “Look. The two legs are missing.” He told John, “Someone must have found it here and thrown down the hill.”
John said, “It was way down there.” Turning to William, “It’s such a big spider. I stepped on it and was so scared!”
“You didn’t step on it,” Carol admonished, giving him a look. She turned to William. “He didn’t step on it. You see? God answered our prayer!”
As we were driving home, I texted Carol, “I will never forget the image of you two running hand in hand in the streetlight, yelling, “William! William!”
She texted back, “God hears even the seemingly unimportant prayers because he loves us that much! I was so excited to find that spider!”
And though it didn’t seem to make much of an impact on William in the moment, the next day, he said to me in his franglish, “Maman, remember? … ‘William! William! I found your spider!'”
I wanted to write down everything that happened that night – the baptism, the faith that grew out of the love from the assembly, the feast, the kids running around, the adults talking and laughing, the spider retrieval …
I wanted to write it down and remember it because it just seems to me that this is church at its best.