John Henry Newman

“In a higher world it might be otherwise, but here below, to live is to change and to be perfect is to change often.”

— John Henry Newman

After an idyllic two weeks, Mark and Naomi left yesterday and it has put us both in a melancholy, reflective mood. On Saturday, Rory and Diggy staged a monumental outdoor lunch for them, as well as for Beau, their friend who stopped by. We enjoyed recalling together the morning’s first reading from Ecclesiastes. It had impressed all of us, so I re-read it for the group. Here are some of the highlights:

Rejoice, O young man, while you are young
and let your heart be glad in the days of your youth….

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth,
before the evil days come
And the years approach of which you will say,
I have no pleasure in them…
When the guardians of the house tremble,
and the strong men are bent,
And the grinders are idle because they are few,
and they who look through the windows grow blind;
When the doors to the street are shut,
and the sound of the mill is low;
When one waits for the chirp of a bird,
but all the daughters of song are suppressed;
And one fears heights,
and perils in the street….
And the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
and the broken pulley falls into the well,
And the dust returns to the earth as it once was,
and the life breath returns to God who gave it.

Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth,
all things are vanity!

Clearly this is the voice of the old, the voice of lived experience counseling the young, strongly urging them to order their lives to our Creator while there is still time. What struck me with particular force was the apt, poetic description of advancing age and the fact that I see those changes in myself! Throughout this past school year, I had rationalized the lack of ongoing, daily exercise, promising myself that I would get in shape this summer. It turned out, though, that some of the stiffness and lameness that I was feeling was actually caused by an arthritic hip. This diagnosis was unexpected and certainly unwelcome. Running and to a certain extent the month of physical therapy that followed seemed to exacerbate the symptoms. I am still sorting it out and trying to figure out how to live with it. I have been above average active and healthy and this seems quite unfair, especially as we enter a more demanding lifestyle.

 Which brings me to the Newman quote and reflecting on the unwelcome aspects that change can bring, such as separation from Mark and Naomi or the degeneration that comes with aging. These “grievings” can freshen and hopefully deepen my realization that this life is, in the end, temporary. We will not enjoy our kids’ presences or good health forever. Our true home and the ideal situations for which we yearn are ultimately not to be found in this life. It is a difficult truth, admittedly, and difficult for me to keep in view. I have spent a lot of time and energy with matters that in the end won’t mean much. But to the extent that these changes, similar to suffering, bring me back to God and help me better order my days, they can have a good effect. It’s time to get back to the task set before us. If you think of it, pray that Mark and Naomi can find suitable housing soon.  [posted by David]

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