Spaulding Gray. Man of Sorrows.

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With all the triumphalism out there in the slappy happy land of popular Christianity, it is important to remember that Jesus was not only the water walker and maker of wine from water, but was also the man of sorrows acquainted with grief.

I thought of this when I read Charles Isherwood’s tribute to the late Spaulding Gray, the infamous monologist whose fabled life became too much to live and who last year slipped overboard to his voluntary death in the cold waters of the Hudson River.

Isherwood explains Grays entrance to comedy, “Heartache rubs elbows with humor. George Coates, a San Francisco theater director and producer, recalls Gray saying he “came to believe he could make a living as a storyteller after realizing how much time and money he had spent waiting for his therapist to stop laughing.”

He goes on to describe Gray’s capacity to read his emotions like a barometer gauges humidity, “A. M. Homes captures the hypersensitivity: “There was a porousness to his humanity, a primal vulnerability that let him be profoundly affected by anything and everything.”

And finally we learn the warning signs of silence observed in retrospect by his brother, Rockwell who ” gives a poignant glimpse of his withdrawal in the last months of his life: “His long silences before the crackling log fire should have raised my suspicions, for I recall his once musing that the worst thing about death was that one would be forced to stop talking.”

Isherwood finds his upbeat ending satisfying, “As Falstaff’s wit inspired wit in others, so Gray, the peerless storyteller, becomes the inspiration for great stories told by his survivors. He’d be delighted,” but I find it romanticized.

We were entertained by the comedy born of pain that drove the man to suicide. Agony can produce wit without such a dire conclusion.

Last Sunday night I did a book reading at poet Luci Shaw’s, where I met a Public Health worker and Christian who works for DHS, a calling he said most evangelicals abandoned when they turned their back on society’s pain and moved to the suburbs where they could create their privatized faith. This is something, Jesus, the man of sorrows could not abide. As Wendell Berry asked in a recent Christian Century article, one of the troubling questions he asks himself is” if I had lived in Jesus’ time, would I have followed him?” Protestants sometimes criticize Catholics for the Crucifix with Jesus pained on the cross, they like the empty tomb and resurrection. There is no Easter without Good Friday, there is no water walker without the suffering servant and there is no way you reach a man like Gray without connecting the pain to the joy, and Jesus is both.

My friend, humorist Eric Metaxas has written a new book Everything You Always Wanted to Know About God (but were afraid to ask) you should check out, and at his web site he posts his favorite quote: “There’s a time for joking around, and a time to be serious, and this is not one of them.”

Amen.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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