Sunday, April 01, 2007

A Time To ...

My friend’s mother died. I drove south to sit on the back row of the chapel and listen to the minister read from Ecclesiastes. Later, my friend and I stood on a bluff overlooking the Crooked River and breathed in the smell of the marsh, a scent that, though sprouting from death and decay, awakens my senses.

We took deep breaths, listened to the water birds and squinted our eyes against the sun’s reflection on the water. A skinny snake paused on his dash from one bank of azalea bushes to another to make sure that we didn’t step on him. The breeze off the river caught in the ringlets of my hair and those of the Spanish moss dangling from the branches of the gnarled oak trees, tossing them both like confetti. And the unmistakable grief on my friend’s face was joined by an expression of contentment.

On my way home, because I feel something quite like a magnetic pull when I am that close, I stopped on St. Simons for a walk on the beach. Just above the horizon – the imaginary line that reminds me that the only thing that ends is my sight of the ocean, not the ocean itself – in a sky that was the palest shade of blue, the moon had risen, a white-washed half-disc. Behind me the sun was still up, egg-yolk yellow and warm.

Caught between the two, the fulcrum upon which the day was pivoting into night, I stood still and listened. The rush of the rising tide and the clanging of the masts of the boats in the boatyard and the cries of the children in the surf mingled to become the voice of the minister as he intoned the familiar words: "A time to give birth and a time to die. ... A time to weep and a time to laugh. ... A time to mourn and a time to dance. ... A time to search and a time to give up as lost."

For all the times I had heard the words read, read the words myself, quoted them from memory, I had never noticed the choice of conjunctions. The writer, who calls himself the Preacher, used the inclusive connector, not the limiting. And, not or. In a subtle choice of words, he reminds the reader that the time for being born is not separate and apart from the time for dying. The time for waging war and creating peace are one and the same. Laughing and crying are the same thing. They are joined, irrevocably linked. They happen not are different times, but simultaneously.

It doesn’t make sense, of course, to our linear-thinking minds. We move in increments, in steps, through stages. We compartmentalize everything, even the ephemeral. We decide how much we are willing to experience at any given moment and ignore anything not on the agenda. We split our lives into childhood and adulthood. We divide our days into work days, sick days, vacation days. And, most tellingly, we make strict distinctions between the sacred and profane.

What if, I wondered, I could believe that being silent is, in fact, speaking in the profoundest of voices? Or that in order to know deep love I must also experience intense hatred? Or that the truest way of holding something – or someone – close is by letting it go? Could I learn to live with the contradiction?

It is spring and, for Christians, it is also the season of Lent, forty days of contradiction: A king who refuses to reign, friends who betray and deny, death that results in life. Forty days of paradox. Forty days of pondering the Preacher’s sermon, recognizing it as prophecy and watching the prophecy be fulfilled. Of growing to hold in one embrace life and death. War and peace. Love and hate. Never either/or. Always and.

To every thing there is a season. And a time to every purpose under the heaven. With the season comes the purpose. And, if we are open, the grace to live it full.

Copyright 2007

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