The snakes slid quietly among the feet of the empty pews.
"What is the question we spend our entire lives asking? Our question is this: Are we loved? I don't mean by one another. Are we loved by the one who made us? Constantly, we look for evidence. In the gifts we are given--children, good weather, money, a happy marriage perhaps--we find assurance. In contrast, our pains, illnesses, the deaths of those we love, our poverty, our innocent misfortunes--those we take as signs that God has somehow turned away. But, my friends, what exactly is love here? How to define it? Does God's love work in our lives? Or is God's love, perhaps, something very different from what we think we know?
"Divine love may be so large it cannot see us.
"Or it may be so infinitely tiny that it works on a level where it directs us like an unknown substance buried in our blood.
"Or it may be transparent, an invisible screen, a filter through which we see and hear all that is created.
"Oh my friends..."
The snakes lifted their bullet-smooth heads, flickered their tongues to catch the vibrations of the sounds the being made somewhere before them.
"I am like you," said Father Damien to the snakes, "curious and small." He dropped his arms. "Like you, I poise alertly and open my senses to try to read the air, the clouds, the sun's slant, the little movements of the animals, all in the hope I will learn the secret of whether I am loved."
The snakes coiled and recoiled, curved over and underneath themselves.
"If I am loved," Father Damien went on, "it is a merciless and exacting love against which I have no defense. If I am not loved, then I am being pitilessly manipulated by a force I cannot withstand, either, and so it is all the same. I must do what I must do. Go in peace."
He lifted his hand, blessed the snakes, and then lay down full length in a pew and slept there for the rest of the afternoon.
The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse
2002 paperpack, HarperPerennial, pp. 226-227