“I didn’t save the world today / or change the course of history.”
I first discovered the music of singer-songwriter Allen Levi while listening to a podcast devoted to the work of farmer, poet, essayist, novelist and short story writer Wendell Berry. I spent a glorious afternoon raking leaves last fall while perusing Levi’s entire body of work, which is available on Apple Music (among other places).
One song in particular, “Didn’t Save the World Today,” stuck with me because it seemed to encapsulate so much of what I’ve written over the past quarter century. I must have listened to it a dozen times during the day and often played it in the evening in the months that followed. Contrary to the modern trend, amplified by social media, to assume that it’s all up to us, our “big ideas and our lofty demands”, Levi celebrates walking “the quiet little path / the life that God gave me data”. After two years in which almost everyone has become an expert on infectious diseases, racism and now foreign policy, the deliberate narrowing of one’s horizons to live life with gratitude, “doing the good that I could do / love people close to me / my neighbors and my family”, is refreshing.
One of the first days of Lent, reading a reflection from Exodus 90 during my morning holy hour at Sts. Peter and Paul here in Huntington, Indiana, a line struck me: “If we want to know how our life will turn out, let’s look at the life of Christ. As I looked up from those words at the crucifix on the high altar, I can’t quite say I was comforted.
Several years ago, during confession at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rockford, Illinois, a priest asked me, as part of my penance, to pray the Our Father very slowly, meditating on each phrase of the Lord’s Prayer while keeping your eyes fixed. on the huge crucifix in front of the church.
At first, I didn’t think much about this penance. I was in my 40s at the time and had been a Catholic all my life. Surely, I thought, I must have prayed the Our Father countless times while looking at a crucifix.
And then I did what the priest asked of me. And I will never look at the Our Father the same way again.
Try saying the words “thy kingdom come, thy will be done” as you look at the body of our crucified Lord. By following the will of the Father, he ended up on the cross. The Father permitted the crucifixion of Christ for us; we have demanded it by our attachment to sin.
In a world shaped by the consequences of original sin and all the actual sins of men and women through the millennia, following the will of the Father brings us to the foot of the cross. We spend much of our lives trying to navigate the waters of this life, avoiding the rocky shoals of a sin-warped world, making a safe journey by the standards of fallen man . But our only sure refuge is in the cross, where Christ hangs beaten and broken, yet more whole than we are.
Because Christ did not conform to this world, we crucified him; because he said “thy will be done,” he freed us from our sins, which put him on the cross. This is the kingdom of God: to do the will of the Father in a world broken by sin. Christ becomes our daily bread and delivers us from evil.
“I didn’t save the world today / or change the course of history.” I don’t need to save the world, because Christ did, and he continues to do so every day. I just have to pick up my own cross and follow him through “the life God has given me,” knowing where the road will lead.
Scott P. Richert is editor for OSV.