Occasionally as a kid I would stay out too late and find myself running home after dark filled with the anxious fear of a child’s overactive imagination. There were dogs in our neighborhood and they would bark and growl and defend their territory from behind the safety of their backyard fences. There were coyotes that would come down from the foothills and roam the streets at night to hunt neighborhood cats and garbage cans. There were tall trees and shadows. There were, it seemed at the time, reasons to fear.
There was no street lamp on our corner and the final stretch was always made in darkness. We had installed a motion sensing light on our front porch but because of the angle of the driveway you had to turn a blind corner in the dark and the light would only come on as you raised your foot to climb the first step up to the door. I remember making this last stretch in a sprint, convinced that I might at any moment find myself devoured by a pack of rabid coyotes. But that never happened. I made it home safe every time.
Was it then irreverent what happened in that chapel on that long and silent retreat—my laughing at the umpire Jesus? Or was it praise? It seems to me now that it was in fact late in the game, a very important game, and there was a dramatic play at home plate. Two players crashed into one another and thousands of eyes and hearts and lungs waited for one eternal moment to know how this game would end. And the umpire Jesus threw his arms wide with knees bent and head forward in the universal sign of triumph. He’s safe! The game is won, the crowd roars, and all because this kid who had been out too late, running in darkness, was now home and safe.