Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Awful grace

Our gathering word in unprogrammed worship on Sunday came from the ancient Greeks. Aeschylus wrote, “He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”
In the silence, I wrote two questions in my notebook: 1) Is suffering an inevitable ingredient of the kind of learning that leads to wisdom? And, 2) Is wisdom the inevitable result of suffering?
I think the answer to both questions is “no.”
Life testifies that suffering can, indeed, result in wisdom. But delight and great joy also provide a path for learning. As a young person preparing for a career in teaching, I memorized a paraphrase of one of Solomon’s proverbs: “A wise teacher makes learning a joy.” That became my aim (if not always my reality) as a high school teacher.
As to the second question—Is wisdom the inevitable result of suffering?—I observe that while suffering can lead to wisdom, it sometimes ends up as bitterness.
Maybe it depends on the attitude of the sufferer.
Maybe it depends on the awful grace of God.

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. Let my sufferings today, large and small, lead to wisdom. Make me tender, not witty. Amen.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Am I old yet?

I’ve been juggling the words “old” and “new.” Sometimes I manage to keep them both in the air, flying in a circle of color, first one on top and then the other. Sometimes, often, I drop one and am left holding the other. More and more, the other is “old.”
For the last several years, Hal and I have been asking ourselves, “Are we old yet?” We’ve chosen to answer, “Almost. But not quite.” But we’ve both crossed the 70 line, and those decade birthdays always mean something.
According to Joan Chittister, we’re in a bracket known as “young old-age.” Middle old-age and old old-age await us. But I’ve always resisted categories. I can’t even remember my Myers-Briggs label. So much for “young old-age”!
Recently we crossed another line and move into Friendsview Retirement Community. It’s like entering a new phase of life. We love our little apartment with its sweeping view of the Chehalem Mountains. And we’re beginning to know and delight in our neighbors here on the fifth floor.
But we can’t help noticing how old everyone is. White hair and walkers surround us. And now we’re a part of this scene.
Does this mean we’ve capitulated? Have I totally dropped the ball labeled “new”? Have we answered our question with, “Yes. Now we’re old”?
Maybe. Maybe not.
I sense God telling me to hang on to both “old” and “new.” While I need to accept this stage of life, he also tells me, “Do not lose heart. Though outwardly you are (or will be) wasting away, yet inwardly you are being renewed day by day.” I’m not yet in the “wasting away” stage, but that day may come. Even so, the new is brighter, and ultimately more true, than the old.
Jesus says, “I make all things new.” That may be a reference to the new heavens and the new earth, but I’m claiming it here, on the fifth floor. And I’m going to discover all the expressions of this life in the stories of my new white-headed neighbors.