The Pebble Lies Where it Does Freely // 1.18.21

In the past few days I discovered, purchased, and read a lovely little book, Robert Farrar Capon's The Third Peacock. I love little books, and long poems, I've found. (I also recently finished A.R. Ammons's Tape for the Turn of the Year, an endlessly inspiring long poem.)

A few years ago I was recommended Capon's Supper of the Lamb, the great food-writing classic, and I read a good bit of it, but not all. Then later I found and read a bit of his Between Noon and Three, but haven't finished that either. Nevertheless, I have enjoyed the Capon I've read, and when I stumbled upon The Third Peacock, short and just a few dollars, I figured I'd try it out too.

I was enthralled. The book is subtitled, The Problem of God and Evil, and does the best job I've seen anywhere of dealing with (but not creating) theodicy. Instead, Capon's thesis seems to be the same as the great Unitarian Universalist Kurt Vonnegut's, when he wrote his first memoir, Palm Sunday: "...that human behavior, no matter how ghastly or ludicrous or glorious or whatever, is innocent."

Capon was Episcopal, and I am an Anglican, or more specifically I was baptized Anglican, and would like to practice some more Anglicanism sometime. I have felt more and more lately, that when Jesus told his followers to "count the cost," he was giving them an out, and the true cost of taking up the cross of Christ is far greater than most are willing to take up, myself included, on most days. And the penalty, for not taking it up? None prescribed.

(This understanding of the "counting the cost" bit was given to me by the great essayist, Joshua Gibbs, one day when I was trying to convince him to convince me to convert to Orthodoxy.)

Due, I imagine, to our scant denominational differences, Capon's dogmatic theology is practically what I believe, and so it was lovely to partake of his wisdom. I learned a lot, I'd say, and was able to reframe much of my anxiety, particularly about correct action, and the immense fear of my own sin. The fear was given to me as a nice bonus to the Rapture-monging I was exposed to in my youth, and while I've shed the Rapture bits, the fear is even more insidious, and more entrenched.

What Capon offers is not a systematic understanding of God and the problem of evil, but a mysterious picture of mystery. And he is willing, like so few since the days of the early church, to suggest that Christ is indeed reconciling the whole world unto himself. So, right up my alley.

As I began the book I had to stop several times to remind myself who had written it. Is this Fredrick Buechner? Is this Walker Percy? Two of my favorites, and spiritual siblings of Capon, I have determined.

This is a sprawling post, and with no point in fact. But I wanted to recommend the book to anyone interested, with my enthusiastic seal of approval.

I'd like last to share a favorite bit of Capon's logic, as  he retells the story of the Devil tempting Christ in the wilderness. Capon puts forth that the Devil actually throws out some pretty good pitches: Make those stones into bread; Christ does him one better, and feeds the multitudes, twice. Throw yourself down, and have your angels rescue you; Christ again beats the trick, at Calvary. Bow down to me; Christ makes himself sin, abases himself as low as any person ever got, descends into hell, and so wins the whole world.

Lucifer's posture is that of every person at some point, and especially those evil doctors of theodicy. "I can do it better, I could run the world and make everything just fine. What the hell are you doing?" This is what gets him the boot, ultimately, but Lucifer is forced to remain prince of this world, to walk up and down, and to and fro in it. And be proved, time and again, that it is good. And so, as David Bentley Hart says, in the ages, shall we.

Photo used without permission: Three Peacocks by Margarita Kubyshkina.