Thursday, January 08, 2009

More Time

So my good friend Ditty, a regular reader (but not commenter), told me that yesterday's reference to Heraclitus reminded her of a poem that she memorized back in her school days at St. Anne's down near Charlottesville. The headmistress led the girls to many a poem, apparently, including this one from William Johnson Cory:
They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead;
They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed;
I wept, as I remembered, how often you and I
Had tired the sun with talking, and sent him down the sky.

And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,
A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest,
Still are they pleasant voices, they nightingales, awake;
For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.

Ditty recited this from memory tracing back, I'm guessing, more than 70 years.
I can only hope that if I am lucky enough to live to the age Ditty is now that I do so as full of grace and good memories, and that I stay as attuned as she remains to the current of time flowing.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World

Perhaps because I have entered my 50th year, I have lately been acutely aware of the constant interplay of change and stability.
Out for a run this afternoon, my regular route took me along Four Mile Run near my south Arlington home. Heraclitus famously said that you cannot step in the same stream twice, but it seems to me that for almost six years now I’ve been running alongside this same creek. Sure, I know the rest of the quote and the others like it, about other waters flowing in, and that everything flows and nothing stands still, and that the only constant in the universe is change, but I’ll be damned if Four Mile Run changes in any way worth noting.
Along about the time I was pondering the ancient Greeks, I passed a young mother with her toddler son. He must have been about two and a half, and he was dragging a branch that must have been about two and a half times longer than he was. My oldest, who turns 18 next month, used to do the exact same thing. You want to engage the swift flow of change, then try parenting! Of course, as I was having a sweet memory of my son, it occurred to me that he really hasn’t changed at all. He’s just dragging bigger branches now.
I was running to the tunes of Johnny Clegg, a white South African musician who cofounded the first racially mixed band in Apartheid-era South Africa. I was listening to the title track of Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World:
You have to wash with the crocodile in the river
You have to swim with the sharks in the sea
You have to live with the crooked politician
Trust those things that you can never see

It's a cruel crazy beautiful world
Every time you wake up I hope it's under a blue sky
I’ve never been to South Africa, so I can only wonder if that blue sky feels the same now in a post-Apartheid world. Is it constant? Does it change? Is the blue sky of sweet, home Alabama – to name another song from a world with its own Apartheid history – the same at the beginning of the Obama era as it was at the time of my birth there in the days of Jim Crow?
It is, indeed, a cruel, crazy, beautiful world.
And we cling to whatever we can get a strong purchase on in the midst of profound uncertainty.
Now, of course, is the time for the preacherly move: point toward God as the unchanging one, the unmoved mover. But I don’t think that is the God revealed in the life of Jesus, because the gospel paints a portrait of Jesus moved often, to tears, to healing, to speak and to act for justice. If Jesus is the one, for Christians, who points us decisively to God then he points to a God so bound up in human history as to suffer with us in the midst of the cruel craziness of it all.
Which suggests trusting in what you cannot see in the same deep way that we trust those whom we love and by whom we are loved. They are, of course, moved and shaped by our shared histories, but the love itself points toward the same constant suggested in that most simple of Christian theological statements: God is love (1 John 4:7). Beloved, as the author of that letter would have addressed you, that enough theology for today.