There have been times I’ve gotten help from a professional, occasionally even a stranger, that’s made all the difference in the world. I’m thinking in particular of a dentist who pulled a tooth after I’d suffered an agonizing night of pain. Then there was the mechanic in the middle of nowhere.
He took three hours to fix my flat and then replace my damaged wheel, which had fused with the axel. He charged me-a short-on-funds student at the time-a pittance. More recently, after I had undergone a series of expensive but inconclusive heart tests I found a doctor who discovered that my chest pain was caused by an out-of-joint shoulder girdle. She snapped it back into place and my pain vanished.
As a teacher, every so often I get some gratifying feedback, but I doubt it is as often as dentists, mechanics, and doctors do. And as a theologian and writer, I rarely have a sense that I am directly helping someone. I console myself with Bernard Lonergan’s admonition about being “supremely practical by ignoring what is thought to be really practical.” But recently I got a taste of what it feels like to pull a tooth, fix an axel, or deliver a freeing diagnosis.
A dental hygienist I know-I’ll call her Jane-presented me with a difficulty she was facing. She and her husband are serious about their faith, and the week before they had hosted her husband’s sister and four other guests. The visitors were from around...