A distant mirror
Sunday, June 2, 2019
From Revelation 22
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let the one who is thirsty come, and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life. He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all God’s people. And so … the Bible ends, with neither a bang nor a whimper but an invitation, a promise and a blessing. And there are moments when I accept the invitation, stand on the promise, and bask in the blessing.
But the key word here for me is “moments.” They come and go. Nighttime smoke curls around them, mirrors confuse my vision, and suddenly other moments rise. The grease of daily life congeals around me, the heaviness of Damocles falls flat down on my chest, and my oxygen escapes, and I can’t breathe.
I notice that the metaphors for this misery are close at hand. When has the human race, when have I, failed to complain and assume the worst? I might be a closet-complainer, but the words teem, bacterially, just below the surface, in their own petri dish of silence and fear.
So, in self-defense I open my mouth, shout out songs of praise, lift up words of affirmation and loudly claim the freedom found in God’s invitation, his promise, and his blessing. A cynic might call this a valiant attempt to Fake It Till You Make It. Well, yes, but it’s so much more than that. I get to decide, with my heart and mind and gut, which reality I’ll express today.
James Joyce has the priest say, “Time is, time was, but time shall be no more.” The words that accompany my self-awareness might be good or true or beautiful or not, but above all they fade away along with me. Unto dust they will return. Why not give them gusto while I can?
In A Distant Mirror Barbara Tuchman writes of the 14th century, and our own. “After the experiences of the terrible 20th century, we have greater fellow-feeling for a distraught age whose rules were breaking down under the pressure of adverse and violent events. We recognize with a painful twinge the marks of a period of anguish when there is no sense of an assured future.”
In his own way the philosopher-mathematician Pascal made the better wager, in his mind, to assume the best. Let God be God and don't struggle to replace him or remove him. After all, one day “time shall be no more.”
* * *
Perhaps you’ve attended a graduation this month. We did, in Mt. Vernon, Indiana, and applauded Michael Adler as he crossed his high school stage toward the next particular part in his own brief moment of time. In his card we wrote to him, “We remember you as a toddler, Michael, knowing things beyond your years, full of laughter, filling those around you with your joy. Follow your dreams, they are yours and no one else’s.”
These are words worth saying, as are the words that end the Bible, as are words of praise and worship, as are words of joy and blessing, good and true and beautiful.
Joyce ends the story of his coming of age with a prayer, “Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead.” At retreats, at the beginning of the day in the breaking of the night’s Great Silence, we often say, “Open my lips, and my mouth shall pour forth thy praise” (Psalm 51:15).
These are the words of the Lord.
Now is the time to celebrate, Lord. This, the last week of Easter, and then we fall into weeks and weeks of Ordinary Time. Get me up, and give me words to praise you, with my body and my mouth. How sweet it is to be loved by you. How hungry I am to eat the right apple this time, and live with you forever.
James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Chapter 3, p. 113 and then again on p. 123, 1916
Barbara Tuchman, A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, Foreword, p. xiv, 1978
James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist, Chapter 5, p. 253