29th Street Station

The Old Becomes New Again

This morning  a colleague posted articulate arguments made by powerful minds. The argument? That science is the New Religion. I smiled for three reasons. I smile because the “new religion” argument is actually hundreds of years old, maybe older. Similar to the way each generation thinks it invented sex, so each generation thinks its own discoveries make it unique. New insights can be heady things, certainly they are for me.

So I smile once again becasue the understanding opened to us by the scientists in the last 60 years takes my breath away! Particles that exhibit characteristics of consciousness? Chaos that resolves itself into a higher order no one predicted? A hypothesis that consciousness might be the fourth dimension in physics? Tell me more, tell me everything, it’s exciting!

Still and all, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Millennia before Abraham people worshiped natural processes and events according to the best science of their day. All these years later the descriptions of biological, physical, chemical, and astronomical processes have become vastly more sophisticated–but a nature religion by any other name remains a nature religion.

The outcome of adoring the creation instead of the creator seems about the same whether 500 BCE (BC) or 2100 ACE (AD). That is, the marvel of each life, its own integrity and uniqueness and worth diminishes when humans become infatuated with their own vast knowledge. It becomes difficult to see the trees for the forest, and so becomes impersonal. Knowledge of facts is a collection of 1st order learning. Wisdom extracts significance from accumulated information, picking up where plain fact leaves off, becoming a second order of knowing.

There is a third order of knowing (and likely many more beyond) which is awe. Awe makes me smile once more, because awe is what I live for, awe is why I press on. If knowledge bestows insights of length and breadth, then wisdom grants volume (depth) and capacity. But awe, sublime awe, combines knowledge and wisdom in an extrapolation that reveals an astonishing past (I had no idea!) and a promising, but mysterious, future (Oh please, let me see too!).

Knowledge is a path along which persons might (if they know what they don’t know and admit it) have an encounter with The One Beyond All Knowing. Science functions as a brilliantly engineered vehicle on a rugged path which winds between vistas of such beauty and terror that any sentient being might be left breathless by the marvel of it.

Yet the vehicle, like the path, is a servant sent by another. To worship the vehicle or adore the path misses the whole point of existence for those worthy tools, and so devalues them. A vehicle and a path exist for bearing each traveler through space and time to…to…to whatever it was that Dag Hammarskjold called “That space beyond time where Thou art.”

Of course there is no ‘where.’ there, nor any ‘when’. Or so I suppose. I fall silent. Words fail. The mind reaches its conceptual limit. Yet some intuition lingers–has lingered– in people of almost every time and place. Call it an inkling, be it expressed poetically or barbarously, that the path leads somewhere. It must. The nature of that inherent necessity no one knows, but the sum of knowledge and wisdom, filtered through ages of experience, points beyond itself. As if driven, humans devise and move in the vehicle called science. People, as if called, explore the unknown paths which entice them. In the end, as in the beginning, there is Awe.

Be it around the next bend, or a million billion light years away, there must be a Source of Awe. In its presence is a deep well of clear wonder.  As Socrates said time out of mind,  “Wisdom begins in wonder.” A single cup of the stuff, shared by a creature back on the plains of fact, becomes love, mercy, and justice. The Awe is the presence of the Holy, Wholly Other. Awe takes shape in the kindness of strangers, in the courage of a community, and in the loyalty of friends. Tillich called this mighty trinity  love, power, and justice.  Truth is simply… awesome.


Are Pastors Called or Hired?

In the months ahead the congregation I serve will hear about “calling” a pastor, and preparing for the “call process.” Anyone might think “call” is just a prettied-up spiritual way of saying “hire” and “hiring process.” There are some similarities: candidates are interviewed, and the one chosen will get a paycheck, benefits, and a W-2. There are also significant differences. The Office of Pastor occupies a spot unlike any other in the employment world. The uniqueness of the role even shows in the tax code. Pastors get W-2s like an employee, but are required to pay quarterly Self Employment Tax like a small business owner. The law actually bars congregations from paying any of the Social Security taxes of their pastors. Clergy are the only employment category with this strange dual designation.

The Constitution for Congregations gives another hint at the unique role of pastors. In Section C9.05. a, it says “The call of a congregation, when accepted by a pastor, shall constitute a continuing mutual relationship and commitment, which shall be terminated only by death or, following consultation with the synodical bishop…. ” Continuing mutual relationship and commitment isn’t typical language for a hiring. It’s a relationship, not a contract, and neither pastor nor people are 100% “in charge” as the boss.

Who’s the Boss? The Office of Pastor confers certain leadership responsibilities as well accountabilities. The pastor ensures that public worship continues, with sacraments administered, and the Gospel and Law rightly divided and proclaimed. The Office of Pastor is accountable to God, but the person of the pastor has a more complicated relationship to authority. Ultimately the “Congregation in Assembly” (a congregational meeting) has the authority to call or to dismiss a pastor. The only exception is in cases gross misconduct, when the Bishop has authority to remove a pastor. The pastor provides direction and leadership to the congregation, but also answers to the congregation. In the call of a pastor the accent is on mutuality and relationship rather than on authority and subordination. That means the pastor answers to the Council, but the Council also answers to the pastor as together they fulfill their shared calling to guide and grow the community of faith.

Every baptized person is called to serve God through their community of faith. The pastor is called, too–but the roles are different. One is not more valuable than another, they are complementary. Some members of the congregation receive a paycheck for ministry work because the needs of the community allow no time to earn a living in any other way. Other members work in the world, and support the congregation with their offerings and volunteer time. It’s all about the relationship of mutuality and interdependence. That’s how the church of Jesus operates. Credit St Paul who in the 40s-60s AD taught that the church is like a body, each part inter-dependent with the others (I Cor 12).

When it came to the nuts and bolts of the organization, the ELCA very deliberately has put in place a system of checks and balances so that no one person–or small, disgruntled group, has all the power. The Call Committee recommends, after diligent searching, one candidate for the call of pastor. The Congregation in Assembly votes to call or not call that person. The call of the congregation makes the pastor, but the Bishop still needs to sign off on the congregation’s choice. As partners in the process, the congregation, the Bishop, and the members of the Call Committee are all working towards one goal: the well-being of the congregation in service of the mission of Jesus Christ. There is one ministry, people and pastor called together, and all to the glory of God. That’s why is a call, not a hire.

Ash Wednesday Evening

One late night stop at the supermarket yielded three conversations about the smudge on my forehead.

How come people do that? Do they believe in God? Do people put the ashes on themselves? Why? Where can I find a church that does that?

Then cameDSC_4523 the sweetest one of all: a woman so thirsty for God she had to stop a total stranger in the dairy aisle to talk about ashes and God. She’d never heard of Ash Wednesday or Lent, or people being at peace while contemplating their own deaths. She said she felt ignorant, but the more she spoke the clearer it became she already had a lovely relationship with God. I said so. Then she told something God had done for her, and I told something God had done for me. Her face lit up as though she’d been given some kind of encouraging news after a long wait. Suddenly self-conscious, she turned away, reaching towards the butter as she said goodbye. Go in peace and serve the Lord, my unknown sister.

It’s Free, Really

The young father looked flabbergasted. A preacher turning down money? Just before the baptism he slipped the pastor an envelope with cash in it as payment for the rite. The pastor gave it back to him. He stared in disbelief. “How lovely and thoughtful of you,”  the pastor began, “but in baptism it’s all about what God does, not what I do.”

God’s grace is free; pastors can’t very well charge people for it, now can they?

The astonishment buzzed through two pews of family and friends during the service. Immediately after the benediction an older relative approached the pastor,  perplexed that she had declined payment. “No one did anything wrong,” the pastor began, “it’s just that God is the one reaching out to that sweet child, I have the privilege of being in the front row when it happens, but God is the center of the action, I can’t take payment for that.” He smiled. So did the pastor as she mused to herself, “Now THAT was a real Gospel proclamation moment.”  We know there is no such thing as a free lunch, but life and love and grace and mercy and joy? They truly do come without price. Price-less.

“We’re Not Being Fed”

IMG_1264“We’re not being fed,” the parishioner confessed, or mourned, or complained. Even a dozen years ago those words still would have engendered some guilt in me–as both a clergy leader (and woman)–it was my job to feed those people, for heaven’s sake!

Now only the oddness of the words strikes me: “we’re not being fed.” Apart from instances of horrible deprivation, those are not words heard from a child old enough to own a phrase or two. Instead of “I’m not being fed” the child squirrels around and finds food to his or her taste. I offer into evidence the occasion when I found my 2 1/2-year-old teetering perilously high above the floor as she reached for a cereal box in a ceiling-high cupboard above the sink. Not being fed was to her an invitation to stretch, to reach higher– to find the nourishment she longed for and take it into her own two hands. The Lord knows that boxed cereal was more exhilarating for her than any meal I ever cooked.

“I’m not being fed.” Does the speaker wish to be placed in a high chair and have someone administer nourishment? Or is that toast with jam seems so much preferable to the brussels sprouts on offer? Perhaps he or she wants to be coaxed into taking a spoonful of Romans, washed down with a sip of Psalms. Why do grown adults clamoring for nourishment not simply help themselves? They know how.

“I’m not being fed” makes me want to hand someone a neatly rolled table service, the way they do at a Perkins restaurant. Past a certain age people are expected to know how to use a table service of knife, fork, and spoon.  If I have enough pieces to set 8 places, I say I have service for 8.” Perhaps people who feel they are not being fed do need to be handed a service to take part in their own nourishment. The service is the thing.

This is the moment when the good ship Irony rounds the point and puts into deep waters.  The phrase “Table service” is English for the Greek word “deacon” (diakonia), one who serves tables. Since the 1st century a deacon has been one commissioned by the church to go feed the hungry, literally and symbolically.  Service grows faith, and faith grows service. Thus it has ever been. In the act of feeding others, the hungry disciple is fed; in the work of serving the servant is herself served by the one who himself picked up a towel and did the service of a house slave.

Truly I do understand that when people say “we’re not being fed” they mean they are not immediately aware of inward growth happening week to week. They are not having the same frequency of revelatory experiences reassuring them that they are close to God. It’s not as exciting as the times when it seems God is speaking everywhere through everyone. A profound religious experience can be as thrilling as the best sex you’ve ever had–but it just doesn’t come along every night.

If a developing disciple grows addicted to the rush of religious experience she or he might never learn the obedience of service; or the discipline of waiting through the silences of God. The Psalmist wrote from the pain of long experience, “for God alone my soul waits in silence (Ps 62).”  Wise saints of ages past affirm that the silences of God are as much a part of spiritual growth as the revelations of God. There are times when a disciple is called to the table, and times when the disciple is left to fasting and prayer. And there are times when plump disciples are expected to go serve others before helping themselves to more.

When “we’re not being fed” it may mean that the hovering Spirit judges we’ve had enough for now, and we’re to go feed someone else until we’ve worked up an appetite that isn’t so picky. “We’re not being fed” might be the cry of hatchlings when Mama Bird no longer caters to them in their nest, the day she begins to teach them to fly as the fledglings they have become. “We’re not being fed,” cry those who are growing up in God, and who resist it as we all do in one way or another. Then the words “We’re not being fed” mean it is time for them to search and to serve. Naturally they do not feel ready, nor do any when they first leave the nest. Only later will these fledgling disciples discover they can nourish others and find food themselves. When they come back with tattered wings and beating hearts they cry out “I’m hungry!” They have stretched, they have reached higher, and now it is their time to rest for a while at the table of the Lord who fills all, in all.

Reheating old issues on my day off

A Lutheran organization called CORE recently characterized the message of acceptance from an ELCA pastor and bishop as misleading. If all these years later CORE still feels a need to engage the topic, then it would be less misleading still if it were to characterize the both the level of openness in CORE, and the 2009 actions of the ELCA in Assembly, accurately.

CORE, NALC, Missouri Synod, Wisconsin Synod and others place a high value on stating what is is “official teaching” and so are able to label who is in and who is out, who and what is ‘of God’ and is not. In 2009 the ELCA humbly and honestly admitted it could not do that, and instead resolved to move on together as one Body of Christ. We recognized that after decades of inwardly-focused struggle there was still no universal understanding of the word and will of God on these matters. The ELCA in 2009 decided to leave off being so self-absorbed and get on with what clearly was God’s abiding mission for us: reaching out to neighbors of all sorts with justice, mercy, and agape-love in Jesus’ name. People who need Jesus now really can’t wait any longer, and the ELCA will not make them.

Instead the ELCA is committed to making making room for one another as we go about the parts of the mission of Christ that ARE clear to us. “Making room” means there might be differences between congregations, differences we will not tear ourselves apart trying to resolve. “Making room” means that some parts of the family may act in ways that puzzle other parts of the family from time to time, but there is no question that all do have a place in the family. Making room means the ELCA realizes that God’s baptized people, trying to live in life-long relationships of fidelity and trust, need support not dissection. It took some of us (this writer included) an embarrassingly long time to recognize what should have been obvious from the beginning: when Jesus commissioned his people to make disciples, to baptize, and to love one another as we loved ourselves, that Word came with no finely-printed codicil of exemptions, exceptions or approved delays. The ELCA with our predecessor church bodies, has frittered away 30+ years that could have been invested in the mission we had, rather than in pointless prognostications about God’s final judgment. St Paul writing in Romans 14:4f was as blunt as could be: “Who are you to pass judgement on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.”

On the other hand, people who need a faith community where universal agreement is a condition for ministry; people who believe it’s their business to have an opinion on who is going to hell and who is not; and people who believe that real live questions are somehow incompatible with a real live faith will probably be happier in CORE and its associated organizations than they will be in the ELCA. As for me and my congregation, we are working to be faithful to the mission God has put in front of us. “Here and now” is where we are called to be faithful. “Then and there” we are learning to leave to the Lord of the Church, in whom all the promises of God find their ‘yes!”

Now my special “day-off” coffee really has grown cold. I think I will reheat that, instead of old arguments, and so enjoy the light of God’s splendid day.

It just hit me

Have you noticed how we can drive past the same house every day for years, and not be able to describe something obvious about it; for instance, how many windows face the street?
I just noticed something in John 6. Obviously it has been there for eons, only I never noticed this window to the heart that beats at the center of the universe.

Jesus says “anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.” Anyone. ANYone AnyONE. Never. NEVER. Never-ever.

How then dare we consider that we have the right to assess who is or is not worthy to enter the presence of the Lord, to stand before his altar? Anyone who comes will never be sent away. You can hang on to that as if your life depended on it. Your life does.


John 12:1-8

INTRO: Have you ever really splurged for the sake of love?  Maybe it was a gift you gave, or an event you planned.  Have you created no-going back moment that will either take you to a new place, or leave you way, way out on a limb. Ever been there?

OPENING: Today we get to overhear such a moment. Come with me.

Come with me, to Mary and Martha’s house. The oil lamps burn clear in the velvety twilight. Savory aromas waft in from the ovens. Our mouths water. The guests arrive in gladness. We are at a dinner party, a joyous celebration at the home shared by Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha.

They have cause for rejoicing; Lazarus, who died, now lives. As host he who was dead now presides at the table. Jesus sits next to him. His sister Martha, typically, is apparently out in the kitchen working too hard.  Mary, typically, leaves Martha to the kitchen work while she herself basks in Jesus’ presence. Suddenly Mary excuses herself, she’s up to something, anyone can see that determined look in her eye.  There she goes….

ASIDE: As we wait for her to come back, we should understand that Jesus not only restored the life of Lazarus, but in the process spared the lives of his sisters too. In that place women were not allowed to own a home or get a job. Had Lazarus died their home and living would have passed to the next nearest relative who would have been under no legal obligation to keep the house, or provide for the 2 sisters. Homeless and destitute, they would become easy marks for slave traders and worse. Jesus saved Mary and Martha no less than their brother.

Lazarus lives. Mary and Martha are safe. This is good. Yet the attention the resuscitation of Lazarus focused on Jesus caused his enemies to get deadly serious about putting an end to him.  In less than a week, they will succeed.

In her possession Mary has a quantity of immensely valuable perfume called Nard.   She keeps it in a flask, a litran, from which we get our word “litre.”  Nard is made from an Asian herb related to what we know as Valerian.  In the Old Testament Nard perfumes a bride and the bridal chamber on her wedding day.  Some translations say Mary “bought” the nard, others that she “kept” it, perhaps as part of her own bridal dowry. However she came by it, Mary brings out her treasure for this occasion

And here she comes. Mary enters the room holding a large flask carved from stone, maybe alabaster.  She makes her way through the group of men reclining in the dining room, going directly to Jesus. That’s bold for a woman to do, she wouldn’t normally be in the room except to serve the food. What! She kneels at Jesus feet, She is opening the flask of nard and, oh this is unbelievable! She is actually pouring it over his bare feet, it’s literally dripping on the floor. Each drop more valuable than gold, and she’s pouring it out like water. Now she takes off her head-scarf, oh my, that just isn’t done, not at all.  Oh my, she is using her unbound hair like a towel to wipe Jesus’ feet. Shocking, that’s the only word for it.  The party goes silent. This woman has just poured away a fortune, enough to support a family for a year, it’s soaking into the floor, leaving behind only the heavy scent that will cling to Jesus for days to come.

II.  Interpretation: That Splurge wasn’t in anybody’s playbook.  The intimacy and the intensity of Mary’s action would make most people stare at the floor and squirm. Guests are wondering “What is she doing? Why isn’t somebody stopping her?” As the heady fragrance fills the house it seems no one knows what to say or do.

Singer-songwriter Billy Joel might croon “Leave a tender moment alone,” but not Judas. He who will be remembered for betraying Jesus with a kiss here objects to Mary’s display of affection.  She just poured out the worth of a YEAR’s work for a minimum wage laborer. Crazy! Judas may have been crooked as a dog’s hind leg, but I can sympathize a little.  In an awkward social vacuum somebody has to say something, right?  Judas’ problem was that he followed the money and lost track of the love.

Jesus didn’t have that problem. If Mary’s gratitude and joy move her to splurge recklessly, who are we to fault her for it? Jesus suggests that Mary’s act has achieved a greater purpose that perhaps she intended, preparing for his burial.  Jesus speaks quite gently to Judas, and to all of us who wonder if Mary’s apparent recklessness sets a dangerous precedent.

When Jesus says, “You always have the poor with you,” he in no way diminishes the imperative of care for the poor.  Years ago, after I delivered what I imagined was an especially stirring sermon against hunger, the president of that congregation rebuked me, saying “Jesus said ‘the poor you shall always have with you,’ it’s not up to us to try to change that.” Maybe Jesus had in mind Deuteronomy 15:11 which commands generosity toward the poor precisely “since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth.” The effect of Jesus’ words is to show us that in faith and in love, there is a place for BOTH devotion and discipline.

The specter of Jesus’ death makes an outrageous splurge like Mary’s strangely appropriate. Like all the best gifts, it emanates from love and expresses understanding about the deepest needs of the other.

III. Application: Mark Skinner reminds us that the gospel writer has another point to make. For John, Mary’s splurge and Judas’ response contrast true and false discipleship, as well as true and false love.  John creates a clear opposition between Judas and Mary. He is false; she is true.  His critical stinginess contrasts with her lavish devotion.  John warns against mistaking discipline for discipleship. John shows us an example of loving devotion that is nothing less than the costly, precious gift of one’s whole self—down to every last strand of hair.

That’s what makes this a real Splurge. There are things we call splurges things we buy because we feel down, or angry, or merely overlooked. At those moments Retail Therapy eases the pain, for a moment.  There are splurges we make because the people who seem to be in a position we want to be have that kind of boat, own a vacation condo there, are seen at those sort of parties and events.  Mary, by contrast, doesn’t care what anybody thinks. She holds nothing back.

Have you been there? Have you created no-going back moment that will either take you to a new place, or leave you way, way out on a limb? If you have ever really put yourself out there, with nothing held back, you were probably terrified.  What if she doesn’t want me?  What if he thinks I’m ridiculous?  What if the almighty board members laugh me out of the room and ruin me?

If you have ever put yourself out there you know what it’s like. But you did it. Even though you were terrified, you moved from fear to love. Whether it was love of a single person, or love of a cause or an ideal, you splurged and put yourself on the line. In this scripture Jesus prepares for the greatest splurge of all time. Mary’s small splurge with the perfume helped him get ready.  In Jesus’ life and death God went all out, held nothing back. God splurged.

If you have ever put yourself out there for love, you know the risks. Maybe it will be laughed off.  Maybe it will be rejected. Maybe it will be ignored. Maybe the beloved will shrug with disgust and walk away. That’s precisely the risk God took when pouring out his  life for us. It’s the risk God took when, in the person of Jesus, God took up a cross and allowed himself to be hung on it until dead.  It’s the risk God still takes, with each and every one of us, every day.  To be loved like that can change a person’s life in a million wonderful ways. We want that love…But honestly, being loved like that can also be pretty hard to take.  Since God has put everything on the table, we dare not show up with less than out whole selves, right? But  most of us naturally shy away from putting our whole selves on the line. Most of us shy away from saying God, I am totally yours, every moment, every breath, every dime, all yours.  It still scares me sometimes. I’m still moving from fear to love.  But here is the truth:  In God there is no fear. In God there is only love, and it is for you.

God’s put it all out there, nothing held back: what are we going to do? It’s our move.

“We take it thankfully, and without trembling”

Receiving the gift of a new year, unlike the gifts just pulled from beneath the Christmas tree, challenges us at the baseline of all our fears, and hopes. What will come? More particularly, what will become of me? German theologian (and concentration camp casualty) Dietrich Bonhoeffer penned this sturdy and bracing hymn, an apt embrace for the yet-unknown gift of this year.

By gracious pow’rs so wonderfully sheltered,
and confidently waiting come what may,
we know that God is with us night and morning,
and never fails to greet us each new day.

Yet is this heart by its old foe tormented,
still evil days bring burdens hard to bear;
oh, give our frightened souls the sure salvation,
for which, O Lord, you taught us to prepare.

And when this cup you give is filled to brimming
with bitter suff’ring, hard to understand,
we take it thankfully and without trembling
out of so good and so beloved a hand.

Yet when again in this same world you give us
the joy we had, the brightness of your sun,
we shall remember all the days we lived through
and our whole life shall then be yours alone.

By gracious pow’rs so faithfully protected,
so quietly, so wonderfully near,
we live each day in hope, with you beside us,
and go with you through ev’ry coming year.

Text by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), translated by Fred Pratt Green (1900-2000). This hymn appears as #626, By Gracious Powers, in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, published by Augsburg Fortress, Minneapolis MN


Imagining a “new” year begins today serves us well, even if it isn’t “real” in any absolute sense.  To celebrate the beginning of a new year is one of those polite fictions we use to order our days and our deeds. “Happy New Year” refers to know absolute point in the endless tide of time, but it reassures us all to say it, and so we do. The beginning of a “new year” is, by strict logic, no more than a convenience, a convention, an arbitrary marker that, for time out of mind, has allowed human beings to carve the immensity of time into manage-ably sized pieces.

We need that, lest the overwhelming expanse of time, like an infinite wilderness, swallow us without a trace. The American west was like that once, unimaginably vast expanses of land stretching further than the eye could see in every direction. To make it manageable the powers-that -were devised a system of sections and quarter-sections, acres and homesteads, to make the near-infinite approachable, usable, attainable.

For all our vaunted longing for freedom, we long for limits as much or perhaps more. Infinite time and space makes us all anxious. We cannot take our bearings from immensity. so it came about that the ancients chose to parcel out time on the basis of the cycles of celestial orbits, creating years and months and weeks for our use. God has created the infinite out of God’s own immensity; it fell to humanity to create time.

To some extent the human mind can and does imagine near-infinite regression and progression in time and space. To the extent that we can apprehend an intimation of infinity, it paralyzes us. Instead we learned to organize the surrounding territories of existence into portions. Hours and days, miles and light-years all arise out of our desire–our need–to find a handle on the experiences we commonly refer to as “reality.” Another polite convention, perhaps, but indispensable to life together. I for one embrace it wholeheartedly, as a necessary fiction. With these colorful threads we may stitch together our time and space inways that allow us to establish the daily rituals by which we circumnavigate our own existence.

Some among us have divined that these threads may actually be constitutive of…well, everything. String theory, a developing branch of theoretical physics, postulates that subatomic particles are one-dimensional strings. All that we can know of our universe is woven of these one-dimensional strings.  The theory combines quantum mechanics and general relativity into a quantum theory of gravity, the Philosopher’s Stone of theoretical physicists, that which could give us vantage point for surveying all that is, was, and will be. Since string theory is widely believed to provide a consistent theory of quantum gravity many hope that it correctly describes our universe, making it the “theory of everything” our best minds long to grasp.

Whether or not these “strings” thread together the whole of existence I do not know. What I am pretty sure about is that the threads of my life (and I guess yours too) are the things that give enough definition to my days that I can function. Breakfast time, bead time, business hours, all these threads hold together the moments and meanings of life so that we can not only grasp the world around us, but feel a sense of control too. Strands of deep aubergine  dreams thread through the small hours of the morning.  The merry spirit of an unexpected guest weaves a line of yellow at midday. The hem of  our public lives we bind with threads of  degree programs, tenure, seniority, retirement, in thousands of colors and weights.

The cut-offs are arbitrary. The lines, the strings the threads little more than mutually agreed upon conventions not too dissimilar from imaginative child’s play in which the playmates agree that one corner of the living room is the store, another the doctor’s office, and still another the school.   So too with wishing you a Happy New Year. Today is as good a day as any other to stitch a line in time, a marker to help us find our bearings.  From threads such as these we weave our lives, in patterns beautiful and terrible, but most often unremarkable. the wonder comes in that they are the moments and places that bind us together in a shared experience of time and space and place, the vessel in which we receive the gift of love, not as a thin one-dimensional string, but as the very ground of our being.  A distinguished academic, in his last days in the existence we commonly call “ours,” whispered to his loved ones that the experience was one of being “suspended in grace…and dependent on love.” These are the real threads of our existence, holding together our days and our deeds, seamlessly linking heaven and earth, the here and the hereafter.

Threads. Strings in theory, time and space as real as we can know it. Sheer gift, all of it.

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