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Matt Kinnaman

A Still Small Voice

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“Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning.” CS Lewis

In the hilltown of New Marlborough, Massachusetts, in the colonial frame and finish of a country restaurant, tucked away along a curve on a road, where on some cold winter nights, not a soul crosses the threshold to witness it, a celebration unfolds. It is a celebration born of faith in a greater purpose.

More than once, I have entered there, from deep in a Berkshire winter, as if from a frozen, dark, vacant planet, with only wind against the walls to tell the keepers inside that the earth still turns. And to my repeated surprise, upon entering, life has been illumined and, to an extent, explained, as the void is answered, resoundingly, by a fresh tablecloth, a lighted candle, polished silverware, and cut flowers–on table after table after table, in an elephant dining room, with wine waiting in the racks, a warm kitchen, a smiling chef, and the pleasure of newly prepared recipes scenting the air. It is an exquisite nightly preparation in anticipation of those who will dine, whether they come or not.

That’s the way it’s been ever since Giuseppe and Jessica arrived from post-war Europe and one day found property for sale on a knoll in New Marlborough and became the keepers of the light on this remote Berkshire hill. They lit the stove and the fireplace and hung an American flag where their guests would walk by, and began creating something special. They wrote recipes, and a menu, remodeled the dining room, set out the china, lit the candles, and began to spread the word that fine dining was to be found on their country road.

But much more than fine dining is found there. In the evening, when Giuseppe and Jessica stand ready with the solace of candles, the refuge of a hearth, and the fulfillment of a fine meal to all who might come in, even on a wind-weary winter night when nobody comes, they offer a glimpse at the essence of civilization–civilization that is possible only because of quiet, self-effacing, often-hidden heroism, civilization woven from love, sacrifice, and commitment, commitment without recourse to entitlements, and without room for self-aggrandizement. And even more than that, their quiet endeavors of culinary excellence in a hidden Berkshire enclave are reminders of unchanging moral truths beyond ourselves to which we can aspire, of measurements of perfection and order not corruptible by the self-centered preoccupations of our narcissistic, nihilistic age.

Evolutionary biologist and Darwinist Stephen Jay Gould spoke in Great Barrington last week about the purposeless forces that have shaped our universe and our lives. Nature just is, he said. There is no moral message.

If Gould is right, if we are spinning in a purposeless cosmos without a moral message, then we are left without meaning, without light, without hope, without the Divine. In it, we can expect only accidents. But the tangible goodness kept within Giuseppe and Jessica’s lighted entryway is no accident, nor is it an accident that the enjoyment of it brings magnified blessing to our common condition, punctuated as it is by hunger, cold, tiredness, loneliness, and thirst.

Gould has to be wrong. If along a solstice-darkened and deserted road, there is a refuge from the cold, with beautifully prepared tables, a well-stocked kitchen, and a waiting hearth, then there is something more to the cosmos than inevitable entropy, something more in the universe than blind chance and mindless mechanistic fate. Ultimately, without the existence of divine purpose, we cannot account for the beauty of a fine restaurant on a lonely road or for minds that can know things beautiful and fine.

For those who doubt, and for those who rejoice in the refutation of doubt, there is a candlelit restaurant on a hillside in New Marlborough, Massachusetts, on a dark and freezing night, hiding fire-lit hints of truth within, reminding those who listen that a still small voice in the wilderness is still the most powerful of all.

(Author’s note: This column was originally published on March 8, 1999, in the Berkshire Eagle.)

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