Like the Hebrew alphabet, the alphabet of grace has not vowels, and in that sense God's words to us are always veiled, subtle, cryptic, so that it is left to us to delve their meaning, to fill in the vowels, for ourselves by means of all the faith and imagination we can muster. God speaks to us in such a way, presumably, not because he chooses to be obscure, but because, unlike a dictionary word whose meaning is fixed, the meaning of an incarnate word is the meaning it has for the one it is spoken to, the meaning that becomes clear and effective in our lives only when we ferret it out for ourselves.
Last night, on New Year's Day, Di and I were in conversation about our upcoming sabbatical (yes, I am still chewing on that bone!) I was musing on how I wanted to figure out a rhythm for the day so that I didn't fritter away this special time. "I need to make certain I reclaim time for prayer and quiet, practicing my bass and..." To which she replied, after listening to my fretting, "How about we wait 'til we get there?" And after a brief pause and a smile, continued, "If all you do in Montreal is rest, take the dog for a walk and rest some more... that will be enough. We'll already be taking in some of the finest musical festivals in the world. I trust that an organic rhythm will emerge once we wander around for a few days, ok?" Clearly she was right. Clearly I need to really learn to rest during this sabbatical. And clearly, as much as I cherish the truth that trusting and resting in God's grace is the essence of faith, I don't do it very well.
Small wonder my mind immediately cut to these words from St. Matthew: "‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today." They come from the center of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus is teaching his disciples to trust that God's love is sufficient for the day - and anxiety is like praying for something you don't want to happen. He puts it like this in chapter 6:
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God* and his* righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
It is so easy for me to slip into senseless, un-grounded anxiety, yes? I wake up and discoverthat my mind is worrying about a financial problem I have no control over. I step into the shower only to note that I am fretting about whether this Sunday's Epiphany Pageant will be satisfying - when it always is! I become aware of my thoughts while watching TV only to find that I am lamenting long standing family concerns that have always been beyond my power to address, correct or change. So much worry! Perhaps the incarnate word for my life in anticipation of this sabbatical is: stop! Stop fretting, stop worrying, stop trying to control. Trust. Maybe the invitation to life born of this New Year comes from another Buechner quote that I have beside my night stand. I think I am being called to make this my New Year's mantra each morning, noon and night:
Stop trying to protect, to rescue, to judge, to manage the lives around you; remember that the lives of others are not your business. They are their business. They are God's business... even your own life is not your business. It also is God's business. Leave it to God. It is an astonishing thought. It can become a life-transforming thought... unclench the fists of your spirit and take it easy... What deadens us most to God's presence within us, I think, is the inner dialogue that we are continuously engaged in with ourselves, the endless chatter of human thought. I suspect that there is nothing more crucial to true spiritual comfort... than being able from time to time to stop that chatter.
It sounds like Jesus said elsewhere in Matthew's gospel to mel:
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
Lord, may this be so as my New Year unfolds...