Thursday, December 31, 2009

Thoughts At the End of Another Year

To be blunt, I really wouldn't want to repeat last year. For me, it was, as they say, a "bummer", mostly because of the stress, uncertainty, and difficulty in dealing with my son's recurrent illness and its consequences. On top of that I've shared, really for the past eight or so years, the general angst and depression which has seemed to increasingly grip our country. Perhaps I'm reading the situation wrongly, but I believe the societal chickens of many years past are finally coming to roost in our generation. It appears to me that it will be rough riding for the foreseeable future, surely for the remaining time I still have left on this earth.

I was feeling all this weighing on me during still prayer this morning. But the words of the Letter of James in the second lesson of the Divine Office kept coming back to me, and helped me put things back into perspective. It seems appropriate to quote the whole passage (4:13-17; 5:7-11), highlighting the words that jump out at me:

"Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.’ Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful

The bad news mongers seem always to have the world stage and audience. We all know how depressing it can be simply to read the newspaper, tune into the local radio station, or view TV news coverage claiming to be "fair and balanced". As I struggle with this, the passage above reminds me that, in the larger picture, we are but "a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes". Not that our lives are unimportant or meaningless, quite the contrary. It's simply that, to survive, one must have the realistic perspective of some of our blessed forbears, such as Julian of Norwich. In her Revelations she comments: "And thus we remain in this muddle all the days of our lives...therefore [says our good Lord] I will that you wisely recognize your penance which you are in constantly...This earth is imprisonment, and this life is penance, and in this remedy He wills that we rejoice: that our Lord is with us, guarding us and leading us into the fullness of joy -- for it is an endless joy to us in our Lord's purpose: that He who shall be our bliss when we are there, is our protector while we are here, our way, and our heaven in true love and certain trust..."

Part of being able to do this, for me, is the resolve to spend less negative attention on the things which are wrong with and in the world, and to seek out and celebrate the almost inexhaustible instances of goodness, kindness and heroism, random or intentional, which continually happen all around us. This is far from being some sort of "Pollyanna". It is to recognize that "in true love and certain trust", in patience, as James puts it, we find the only heaven to which we can realistically aspire: not some thing or place up in the sky, but the very person of the Holy One of God. "He is my heaven" is a familiar and foundational assumption in the spiritual lives of saints such as Paul, Julian, Elizabeth of the Trinity, and countless others.

And so, tonight as you and I ring in the new year of 2010, a new decade, may it be with a renewed sense of hope, a hope which Julian of Norwich so beautifully expressed in a prayer:

God, of Your goodness, give me Yourself;
for You are enough to me,
and I can ask nothing that is less
that can be full honor to You.
And if I ask anything that is less,
ever shall I be in want,
for only in You have I all.

1 comment:

John-Juian, OJN said...

O Harry, you hit a core point here!

We are all so contaminated with late medieval (and strong Calvinist) self-hatred and self-deprecation. How much more important is it to realize our fine, created nature.

I can no longer say that I believe in "Original Sin" -- I cannot believe in God producing a flawed product in each new birth. I CAN recognize that one is born into a sinful world and "taught" sin from the word "go", but we have cores of goodness, cores of the divine, and THAT needs emphasis (as you say) in this day and age.