The first sermon in a series on the Apostles’ Creed. Here, in part, I have taken up the question of trust as it is explored by Wolfhart Pannenberg in his The Apostles’ Creed: In the light of today’s questions.
This past week Tuesday saw the death of the America writer John Updike. It is perhaps fitting, then, that we begin this morning with a reading from part of one of his short stories – it is entitled Trust Me.
When Harold was three or four years old, his father and mother took him to a swimming pool. This was strange, for his family rarely went places, except to the movie house two blocks from their house. Harold had no memory of ever seeing his parents in bathing suits again, after this unhappy day. What he did remember was this:
His father, nearly naked, was in the pool, treading water. Harold was standing shivering on the wet tile edge, suspended above the abysmal odor of chlorine, hypnotized by the bright, lapping agitation of this great volume of unnaturally blue-green water. His mother, in a black bathing suit that made her flesh appear very white, was off in a corner of his mind. His father was asking him to jump. “C’mon, Harold, jump,” he was saying, in his mild, encouraging voice. “It’ll be all right, Jump right into my hands.” The words echoed in the flat acoustics of the water and tile and sunlight, heightening Harold’s sense of exposure, his awareness of his own white skin. His father seemed eerily stable and calm in the water, and the child idly wondered, as he jumped, what the man was standing on.
Then the blue-green water was all around him, dense and churning, and when he tried to take a breath a fist was shoved in his throat. He saw his own bubbles rising in front of his face, a multitude of them, rising as he sank; he sank it seemed for a very long time, until something located him in the darkening element and seized him by the arm.
He was in the air again, on his father’s shoulder, still fighting for breath. They were out of the pool. His mother swiftly came up to the two of them and, with a deftness remarkable in one so angry, slapped his father on the face, loudly, next to Harold’s ear. The slap seemed to resonate all over the pool area, and to be heard by all the other bathers… His sense of public embarrassment amid sparkling nakedness…survived his recovery of breath. His mother’s anger seemed directed at him as much as at his father. His feet were on grass. Standing wrapped in a towel near his mother’s knees while the last burning fragments of water were coughed from his lungs, Harold felt eternally disgraced.
He never knew what had happened; by the time he asked, so many years had passed that his father had forgotten. “Wasn’t that a crying shame,” the old man said, with his mild mixture of mournfulness and comedy. “Sink or swim, and you sank.” Perhaps Harold had leaped a moment before it was expected, or had proved unexpectedly heavy, and had thus slipped through his father’s grasp. Unaccountably, all through his growing up he continued to trust his father; it was his mother he distrusted, her swift sure-handed anger.