From the place where we are right

Flowers will never grow

In the spring.

The place where we are right

Is hard and trampled

Like a yard.

But doubts and loves

Dig up the world

Like a mole, a plow.

And a whisper will be heard in the place

Where the ruined

House once stood.

The Place Where We are Right, by Yehuda Amichai

I am haunted by this poem.

We want so badly to be right, don’t we? It’s intoxicating. It’s a sign of strength and power, being right. Most of us were taught, indirectly if not directly, that being right is a virtue. Something to celebrate.

And yet Amichai offers us a much different view.

From the place where we are right

Flowers will never grow

In the spring.

Being right is not life-giving, but a kind of death. There is no new growth in being right. The ground is not fertile. It’s “hard and trampled like a yard,” an image that reminds me of a place in our backyard where our dog runs and runs. What used to be lush St. Augustine grass is now dry, dusty, dirt. It will take some work to get it capable of growth again. Some breaking up and turning over of the soil to allow space for something more.

But if being right leaves us in such a state, what are we seek instead?

Doubts and loves.

These things “dig up the world,” like a tiny mole working beneath the surface of things–yet capable of making quite a mess, as any gardener can tell you.

Or like a plow, brutal and complete, capable of turning over the entire landscape.

Yet sometimes such upheaval is necessary.

Not two things we would naturally understand as linked, and yet don’t both doubts and loves leave us unsettled or somehow unfinished? Don’t they introduce to us, in different ways, the possibility that there is more out there that we don’t understand or control? They leave us vulnerable and open.

The opposite of being right, Amichai suggests, is not being wrong. It’s being willing to grow.

And this is hard. Not just because it’s uncomfortable, but because we will receive little incentive or support from the world around us. Sadly, maybe especially in the church or from what we’ve learned about faith, which is that it is a kind of sanctified certainty, instead of a humble hoping. Even when we care deeply. Maybe especially then.

It’s hard enough to imagine what living from a place of “doubts and loves” would look like on an individual level. But I wonder what it would look like within a community? What would such a people be known for? How would it feel to be a part of it?

There would have to be a lot of trust. Endurance. Certainly a good bit of laughter–a plow if there ever was one, in the best ways. A good memory for the things that matter and a short one for the things that don’t. A capacity to forgive and be forgiven.

What would we call such a place, I wonder.


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