“He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”
As we journey through yet another fall season, this season of holidays, harvest and thanksgivings, I thought I’d lighten the mood with that little tidbit from Aeschylus (say “ess-kuhl-luss or ice-kuhl-luss and you’ll be close enough for a 20th-century Westerner, or 21st if you’re keeping score). For all of us not quite sure of our Greek history, Aeschylus lived about 500 years BC. He was a playwright, poet and philosopher. Apparently, he was also (based upon today’s quote) a lot of fun at dinner parties.
Perhaps the Grateful Dead sang it more succinctly: “What a long, strange trip it’s been…”
Yes, this life is a strange one, but it’s the only game in town and a pretty good one at that! Sometimes, thankfulness fairly leaps out of our hearts, and sometimes, it emerges slowly from the fog. Where are you this year? Me, I’m, well, here. Give me a minute. I need to think about it.
Abide with me, if you will, while I do a quick inventory. Childhood was great; I didn’t have everything I wanted, but I had much more than I should have wanted. The bad days I can recall were driven by my obsessive/compulsive tendencies while being surrounded by people with a lot more OCD than me. There were lots of black-and-white rules, but I saw a world with lots of gray. I’m still working that one out; how do I apply the rules when there is so much need for mercy?
Adolescence and young adulthood? Let’s just skip over that for now.
As a young adult…wait, the memories are revving up, and the OCD thoughts are kicking in. Let’s just stop this inventory foolishness and jump to a story about someone else. The word mercy reminds me…
There is a tale, often told, of the King of all Israel who was goofing off, and instead of leading his troops in battle, he was home eying the lovely woman next door. He rushed into adultery, which led to her pregnancy, followed by the King conspiring (successfully) to murder the legitimate husband while he (the husband) was on the battlefield. You know, serving the very King that betrayed him, in case you’re not fully getting this.
The not-as-well-known part of that story occurs after the birth and death of the child, when the King’s advisor, the prophet Nathan, went into the King’s presence and related the story of a rich man who stole the one and only lamb from a poor man’s family.
This little lamb had become a much-loved, cherished pet to the poor man’s children, and now it was stolen away by a man who had more lambs and goats than he could count so Little Lambkins could be the entrée for a dinner party.
The King was outraged. The King was also a bit thick-headed at this point in his career as evidenced by (a) his egregious behavior, (b) his doubling down with egregious behavior, and (c) his inability to spot an allegory whilst it was gnawing on his leg.
The King, with face burning red with anger, exclaimed, “That man must die!”
“You,” said Nathan dramatically, as he surely paused for effect, “are that man.”
Boink. Man, instant sobriety there. I’ve had those moments in life, haven’t you?
David, the King of all Israel, God’s anointed, was a man who demanded justice, but needed mercy.
We are like that, aren’t we?
If we look around in this world, we see brokenness everywhere. It’s the news, on the internet, playing out in wars and conflicts worldwide. Most troublesome, perhaps, is that bits and pieces of it are hidden in our hearts.
Aeschylus’ observation was a simple one upon reflection. Wisdom, maturity, and understanding are most often acquired through labors long and arduous. We hunger for mercy, but it may come at a price. Grace, Grace however, is free.
So today, this season, join me in giving thanks, sharing mercy and extending grace to those with whom we share this time and place.
Bloom where you’re planted, as the saying goes. Furthermore, I would be remiss if I didn’t clearly say that our greatest thanks need to be shared with the source of our greatest gifts: He that made us. Join me in the chorus (it’s okay if you reminisce about the James Herriott novels):
All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.
— Cecil Frances Alexander
One of the great joys in my life these days is sitting on my back porch and watching the birds come to the feeders in our backyard bordering the lake. There are so many types: songbirds, wading birds, ducks, eagles & hawks, and more. It is so beautiful; it defies description. Some days, the Florida sky is so blue that it just expands forever. It is such a blessing and a privilege to be there in the moment.
Satchmo was right. It is a wonderful world.
So, give it a look and celebrate the joy of the creation and of your creations. Give thanks, share Grace when you can, and experience the joy of a cheerful heart.
And oh yes, if you find yourself taking your own personal inventory or still fighting those battles to get to Wisdom, extend yourself a little … or a lot … of Grace as well. It’s free.
Thanks for sharing the journey with me, even if it’s just a few steps along the way. See you soon.