Both sides at once...

Part of the challenge for me during this sabbatical has been coming to terms with a new/old
way of living into my faith for these later days of my life. Today would have been my father's 84 birthday, so I am keenly aware of my own mortality. Perhaps evermore-so given a few long afternoons of playing with my beloved grandson, Louie, as his parents visit us in Montreal. When I watch my daughters and their chosen loved ones build lives of integrity and joy, when Di and I sit and talk about how we want to live and share love in whatever time remains, my heart turns to the Psalms of Israel - and, as has been my want recently, to the old King James Version of the texts.

Psalm 8 is one favorite: 

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.
When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honor. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:
All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field;
The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.
O Lord our Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth!

And Psalm 90 comes close behind:

 Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men  For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night. Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up. In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth.  For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled. Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told. The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.  Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath.  So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.

Here is both the promise and the actuality of real life: the possibilities as well as the hard-nosed realities and it is always one together. I think of Harry Chapin's song, "Circles" as well as Joni Mitchell's "Clouds."

We have discerned a few clues about how we will live in different ways when we return - not the practicalities as yet - just the promise. So there is clearly more reality yet to be revealed. But one of the new blessings I have embraced for my faith is this: I trust the old wisdom in ways that are deeper than logic. The wisdom/mystical traditions of most religions point to joy, grace and peace within the pain of our experiences. And their unanimity is persuasive to me.  A few days a young stranger on Facebook decided to pick a theological argument with me about the brutality and stupidity of religion. I rarely take such bait any more for a variety of reasons, but his passion reminded me of my own certainties when I was a young man. He hails from the Richard Dawkins school of limited thinking about religion - you know, where a one-dimensional, ugly fundamentalist straw man is created and then named the totality of religion - making faith very easy to hate.

I simply shared with him that I hate such stupid and vulgar religions, too. And yet, there is a love greater than our wisdom and deeper than time. And if he listens to his heart, maybe he can find this love when his life is ready for it. I think of how James Carroll has recently restated the core of faith for those of us in the Christian tradition. As I sit with it, it continues to resonate with me:

Jesus, the Jew from Nazareth, is a living expression of the inexpressible God. He is the Christ, Son of Man, according to the Scriptures. He is present to the world the way meaning is present in the word. Just as a word points not ot itself, but to its meaning, so Jesus Christ, Son of God, points to One whom he calls Father. In that way, as one of us, he is the Word of God, whose Meaning comes clear. The Unknowable One, therefore, can be known. Because God is not an enemy, but a friend, we need not be afraid. Because God completes what God begins, death is not the end, but a beginning, wholly undefined. Because God is faithful, creation has a purpose, and its name is history. Imitators of Jesus Christ, we want mainly to be kind and true, taking heart from our dear companions on the way. And we say with those who go before, and who come after: Amen. So may it be.

As Carroll has observed before, the heart of this statement is ortho-praxis - right living - rather than ortho-doxy - right belief. He testifies to what I have experienced: the way of compassion brings us closer to the soul of God than hours in prayer or theological study. And when we have tasted the love that is of the Lord, then we seek words and prayers to both help us comprehend what is incomprehensible and share our limited insights with those we love.

As I write I am aware that Joni Mitchell is slowly recovering from a recent stroke that has changed her forever. I am aware that all around me people are hurting, afraid and wounded. I am also aware that woven throughout the pain is a joy that is equally true. I have only been given this day to honor both the suffering and the celebrations. "So we say with those who go before, and those who come after, amen. So may it be."


RJ said…
Thanks Phil! How's life for you?

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