Joan went to put some dishes back onto the top shelf in her kitchen. And discovered that a smoked-glass bowl had broken in half.
We have no idea how, or when, it happened. It could have been yesterday; it could have been years ago.
The bowl belonged to my mother, who died in 1972. We’ve kept it, all these years, because it was hers. We kept several things of hers, because every time we used them, those things reminded us of her.
More accurately, perhaps, we kept them because they reminded us that we loved her.
Many of her things we inherited from her have gone, now. We still have her Indian trays and coffee tables. And her silverware -- that needs polishing regularly -- and her teacups. But the milk jug is long gone. So is a vase we particularly admired.
Joan handed the broken pieces of the bowl to me. “I suppose I could glue it together,” I said.
“It’s not worth fixing,” she replied. “Just recycle it.”
The second half of life
Her words seem almost like a mantra these days, as we inch towards the day when we will have to clear out some of our own precious possessions.
For 20 years, I saved a dozen fat file folders of notes and memos from the sale of our old church, before building of our new one. Actually, I hadn’t saved them -- I had ignored them. They lay on top of a filing cabinet, gathering dust, waiting for me to do something with them.
But the sale is done. Over. Long complete. If those files had no value for 20 years, why continue saving them?
Like my mother’s bowl, they went into recycling.
Franciscan priest and widely read author Richard Rohr describes two halves of life. The first half is about acquisition. Getting jobs. Getting promotions. Getting a house, a life partner, a family. Getting, getting, getting…
The second half -- although in truth it may be only a decade, or less -- is about disposition. Letting go. Of things, of course -- several friends recently have downsized, and discovered how much they had become captives of their possessions.
But also, Rohr suggests, a time for disposing of old habits, old beliefs, that we have long taken for granted.
Some of them, too, may have been gathering dust while we didn’t bother thinking about them.
No longer needed on voyage
Just this last week, a group of us got talking about some preconceptions that we might consider letting go of.
Such as the assumption that only one small group qualifies as God’s chosen people; Christians must therefore support them regardless of how they treat the land’s indigenous inhabitants.
Or that God intended humans to dominate nature, even if we destroy it.
And there’s the belief that God will always intervene to fix things if we just ask using the right passwords.
Let alone the childlike picture of God as a white-bearded grandfather figure who sits on a cloud “up there” somewhere.
Few of us, I think, would still cling to those dusty assumptions, if we stopped to think about them. Maybe some of them also deserve to go into the recycling bin.
Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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I got mixed reactions to last week’s column, about the experience of shuffling in the dark towards an unclear destination. Several people thought it identified their own feelings about moving towards the end of life. But one woman asked, “Why didn’t you just turn on a light?” That, at least, had a simple answer -- turning on a light would have wakened my wife!
Dick Best commented, “Interesting that you should reference Tim Conway on the day he shuffled through the door to whatever is on the other side.”
Dick related his own experience -- rather like mine -- of finding his way in the dark. He continued, “How well will I do going through that symbolic doorway, whenever I am called to do so? All I know is that, so far, I've made it into the bed, sooner or later, although there have been a few side trips. Hopefully, I will do as well there.”
Frank Martens identified with my narrative: “You’re fortunate that your shuffling takes place only in the dark when you are finding your way around your home, a place with which you are familiar. I’m in my early 80s as well, and even with two hiking sticks to keep my balance, I note that I’m starting to shuffle sideways, trying hard to keep a straight line as I walk.
“What I suspect will happen soon, along with losing my memory, will be the need for a walker, and from there…. my final shuffle…”
Tom Watson mused, “Ah, treading on uncertain territory is a challenge. What was it that Donald Rumsfeld said? Something likes: ‘Aswe know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don't know we don't know.’
“Oops, I just clobbered my shin on a chair I didn't know was there!”
The column made Cliff Boldt think of the poem by Minnie Haskins that King George VI quoted in his 1939 Christmas message, “I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown…’
Cliff wrote, “The words were prophetic when the King George VI used them in his Christmas message, 1939. [The person who sent it to me] suggested that it was appropriate given the political and economic turmoil we are facing. In a sense, it is like your darkness wondering too. How does faith help with the wondering?”
If you’re interested, I wrote about that poem in my column for December 26, last year.
Bruce Fraser wrote, “Thanks for sharing your personal story. It's more... personal that way.
“When I wonder about dying, this Bible passage comes to mind:
No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him. (1 Corinthians 2:9) Whatever I think it might be like... it will be a thousand times better. I often say, ‘Knowing Jesus makes all the difference in the world’.”
Anne McRae similarly had no fears: “I’m in my nineties. God has been very good to me so far. I'm hoping to say 'good night' to Him from this side some night and say 'good morning' to Him from the other side.. Just slip across the border overnight. Wonder what plans God has????? Whatever, I won't be here to report, will I?”
“Beautiful. Also in my eighties, I resonate with your journey,” wrote Beth Robey Hyde. Then she went on to focus on a different element in my narrative: “I only wish that I lived in an area as free from light pollution as you. I miss the outdoors darkness, the incredible night sky, and the way the moon can create a new landscape as it also touches my soul and body. Indoor darkness is just that, dark, not the living black of the night.”
Psalm 67 might well be a plea to the television weather guru:
1 Send us mild temperatures and gentle breezes, God;
Make your sun shine softly and your rain fall regularly.
Then we will know that you smile upon us, and bless us.
2 Then all will recognize your kindness, your power to save.
3 And the people will praise you, God. All the people will praise you.
4 For the nations will know you are not capricious.
You do not favor one over another.
You do not give rain to one and drought to another;
You do not feed one and starve another.
6 The earth pours out its produce without stinting;
like God, it withholds nothing.
7 Who then are we to withhold anything from others?
As God has blessed us, let us bless others.
5 Then indeed will all the peoples praise you, God; all nations will know you and praise you.
For paraphrases of mostof the psalms used by the Revised Common Lectionary, you can order my book Everyday Psalmsfrom Wood Lake Publishing, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8
Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. The original website has been closed down, but you can still order the DVD set through Wood Lake Publications, info@woodlake,com
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca>
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet
ALVA WOOD’S ARCHIVE
I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge.