Saturday, March 1, 2014

What to do?

Ain't gonna need this house no longer
I'm getting ready to meet the saints
This Ole House
What a strange world we live in! What a shape-shifter! We think we’ve finally figured it out, and devised a strategy to get through it, wearing our lives out (and wearing them in) like an old pair of shoes, and suddenly, we’re not walking on solid ground at all, but on a thin sheet of ice, and we can hear it as it starts cracking, and then… we’ve fallen through! Colder than Russian hell! Lord, have mercy!

We’ve found ourselves to have bought a piece of real estate. We got it for cheap. We knew it was ‘a fixer.’ (No, this is not going to be about my current search for a house to buy.) We knew it needed more than cosmetic upgrades. But holy cow! When it rains, we need a boat to get to the front door. And in the humid heat of the hot summer, the smell of old, dry-rotted timbers suffocates us.

This world is that kind of house. Brother Giles of Assisi once said, speaking of the world, ‘he who has the biggest part, has the worst part.’ I tend to agree with him. Why I metaphored the world as a house that we get as a fixer and then discover it’d be better to just bulldoze it and start over is, that’s how the world is. We try to fix it, to make it more pleasant, more livable, but we can’t.
Then, what to do?

There’s a gate somewhere in India that has a Persian proverb carved around it in beautiful calligraphy, “Isa [Jesus], son of Mary said: ‘The world is a bridge, pass over it, but build no houses upon it. He who hopes for a day, may hope for eternity; but the world endures but an hour. Spend it in prayer for the rest is unseen.’” Whether or not the real Jesus said this, it still rings true. Yet, what to do?

We can spend our time in prayer, but do we know what prayer is? Is it really just sitting quietly alone with God, speaking or unspeaking? Well, yes, it can be that, but sometimes prayer can be work that we do. I tend to fall into the latter rather than the former mode of ‘prayer,’ hoping all the while that God will finish what I cannot complete, and that is, frankly, nearly everything. Yes, what to do?

Though we cannot save the world, still, mustn’t we try? A quiet young man I work with, confronted with a chatty female co-worker who, as she was leaving, melodramatically complained about how it was finally the weekend and that she’d try to enjoy it, and then rhetorically added, ‘it’s not our job to save the world, is it?’ softly spoke, ‘Yes, it is,’ and only he and I, I think, heard him. Now, what to do?

We sometimes think, yes, me too, that the world is getting better. At other times, we sometimes think, yes, me too, that the world is getting worse. All around us we see fantastic progress in some areas of life, technology for example, or human rights, coupled with social ills and natural depredations that boggle the imagination. I listen to co-workers having ‘panel discussions’ about both extremes all day long.

What comes out of their mouths causes me to blush, for the ignorance crowned with the laurels of false learning they display, often knocking to pieces people and things that are really life-affirming and good, in their self-agnostic scramble to make a goal in the games they play in place of producing what they are paid to do. The goal is, of course, to put everyone and everything they feel superior to, down.

What impresses me most about this world we live in is, that no matter how hard we struggle to maintain the right—what that ‘right’ is will differ, I know, from person to person, but all people in their deepest nature, do want what is good, don’t they?—no matter how constant and faithful we are, our efforts are never good enough. There is as much good in the world as ever, and as much evil, in equal portions.

This has to tell us something. We see bits of the truth here and there, in the Bible of course, but also in the stories, myths, and proverbs of various peoples. Human beings are not stupid, unless they train themselves to be by devotion to consumption. The Jews say, “Rabbi Jacob says, ‘This world is like a foyer leading the world to come. Prepare yourself in the foyer, so that you may enter into the inner chamber.’”

I’ve always been drawn to this saying, and to the Jews generally, because the wisdom that possesses them I want to possess me too. As a follower of Jesus, I follow Him not only as Lord but as Rabbi, ‘the only Teacher of mankind’ and hope to learn from Him both by sitting and by serving, as Mary and as Martha, sisters, did. We find ourselves in this strange world, and bewildered, ask, ‘What to do?’

I think I have found the answer, but it is in the unlikeliest of places. ‘Do not keep the prophecies in this Book a secret, because the Time is close. Meanwhile let the sinner go on sinning, and the unclean continue to be unclean; let those who do good go on doing good, and those who are holy continue to be holy. Very soon now, I shall be with you again, bringing the reward to be given to every man according to what he deserves.

‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Happy are those who will have washed their robes clean, so that they will have the right to feed on the Tree of Life and can come through the gates into the City. These others must stay outside: dogs, fortunetellers, and fornicators, and murderers, and idolators, and everyone of false speech and false life.’
Revelation 22:10-15 Jerusalem Bible

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