Those words are from Bob Dylan's song, Every Grain of Sand . They are words that seem more real to me than ever, as 2007 comes to a close. In their context, Dylan's biblical lyrics seem to convey the sense of awe that has dominated my consciousness during this year of changes and challenges for me and my lovely wife, Frankie:
"I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there's someone there, other times it's only me.
I am hanging in the balance of a perfect finished plan
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand." (Update: The original sung here)
2007 was the first full year Frankie, her sisters, and her mother lived without her father, Joseph Alexander Dickerson, Jr., who died in May of 2006. A World War II veteran and pilot, Joe was a man of impeccable character with an uncommon common sense, the sort of man that once dominated the cultural landscape, but is, sadly, receding out of memory and into history. Soon after his passing we discovered, among his personal items, a St. Christopher medal, inscribed from a Bishop Choi to JD. We believe Joe was given the medal while he was on the ROTC faculty at Fordham University in the late 1940s. Impressed by the Jesuits at Fordham and the seriousness of their faith, Joe wanted to become Catholic, but his wife, my mother-in-law, discouraged him. For she told Joe that his parents would be devastated if he were to join the Catholic Church. So, Joe acquiesced to his wife and, as far as we know, never made a Christian commitment of any sort, though, ironically, he lived the Christian virtues better than most Christians. This is why when Frankie was received into the Church on August 18, 2007, she took the name "Joseph" as her Confirmation name, in honor of her father and his unfulfilled desire to become Catholic.
I began 2007 as the 58th president of the Evangelical Theological Society, resigning four months later on May 5, seven days after returning to the Catholicism of my youth. Although this resulted in a torrent of internet and media commentary and stories (including making CT's top 10 for 2007), for me and my wife this was a deeply personal decision, one that seemed, to us, like a natural development of a spiritual journey that each began independently in our youth but one that we are now on together.
Since those early days of May, I have had the privilege to talk and correspond with many devout Christians from the around the world. Although most were Catholic well-wishers, we received hundreds of encouraging notes and calls from Orthodox, Reformed, non-Reformed Protestant, and Anglo-Catholic Christians. In fact, you would be surprised at the number of inquiries we received from Protestant clergy who are seriously considering Catholicism or Orthodoxy.
We were impressed and touched by the sentiments of many Evangelical Protestant friends who, though not agreeing with our decision to become Catholic, publicly expressed their appreciation and support for us as fellow followers of Christ. Six in-particular stand out: Timothy George, David Howard, Craig Blomberg, Paul Owen (my co-editor of The New Mormon Challenge), C. Michael Patton (and here), and the ETS Executive Committee.
And, of course, there was vitriol here and there, including the requisite questioning of my eternal destiny and whether I was an "apostate" or "heretic," terms usually employed by those who don't seem acquainted with their theological pedigrees. But, amazingly, we never dwelt on the comments of these less than charitable souls. If anything, it reminded us of the importance of how one should conduct oneself as a public Christian facing adversity while moving from one tradition to another. There were a few times when holding my fire was difficult, I must confess. But one verse kept popping into my mind: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Mark 8:34b). This is a hard saying, one that runs counter to my default narcissism.
We don't know what we would have done without the spiritual guidance of our priest, Fr. Timothy Vaverek, a learned man of deep devotion, intellect, and wisdom. Fr. Timothy, pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church (our parish) in Bellmead, Texas, is the perfect combination of counselor, historian, theologian, philosopher, and friend.
2007 was the year I heard the ancient footsteps. I could not ask for a better companion than my wife, Frankie, with whom to follow down that path. She heard the ancient footsteps years before I did. This is why she calls herself a John Paul II Catholic. I am truly blessed. Soli Deo Gloria.