Saturday, April 13, 2013

On A Divergent Path - Christian Reconciliation

[This post is a continuation of my previous one, on the subject of universal reconciliation within the framework of Christianity.  I invite you to read the earlier post for context HERE.]
These are my reflections on the gospel message, the “good news” that God is reconciling the world to himself through his son, Jesus Christ.  By “reconciling”, I mean God’s plan and purpose to return everything that is out of balance into harmony and to repair and restore every relationship that has been broken. 
Why is God doing this?  The short answer is because we can’t.  The record of human civilization is measured by the wars we fight, the people we conquer, the misery we spread.  We kill, lie and steal.    We’ve had thousands of years to learn to live peaceably with one another, but we’ve squandered the time by erecting walls built of religions and cultures designed to ostracize, alienate and obliterate our fellow man.  Our monstrous leaders have murdered tens of millions of their own countrymen, our industrialists have perfected greed and our religions have replaced the sacred with fear and oppression.  Today we live in the richest, most technologically-advanced world since the beginning of mankind, yet every single day 22,000 children die from poverty.  We are slaves to our narcissism and hubris. This is our corporate sin.
If there is to be any hope for harmony and restoration, for a world of peace where love and compassion are the norm, it needs to originate somewhere outside the human race.  And so it does. 
The good news of the New Testament resounds with a message of love, restoration and hope.  It is a powerful and glorious vision of divine love, of an almighty God that has both the will and the power to bring reconciliation to all of those whom he has loved into existence in the first place.
Unfortunately, this gospel of hope, the “good news” as Jesus described it, has too often been twisted into a message of fear and condemnation, a death-centered tome that envisions God as a schizophrenic monster who loves each of us with infinite benevolence one moment and yet is willing to abandon us to a fiery pit of eternal conscious torment the next.  This aberrant doctrine leaves adherents anxiously scrambling to avoid an endless existence of horrible torture for themselves and their loved ones.   Jonathan Edwards, prominent Calvinist minister and intellectual during The First Awakening that swept the United States in the 18th century, describes our fate in “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” (arguably the most famous sermon ever preached in America) as follows:
The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.  You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment.  There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship.  Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why do you not this very moment drop down into hell.
Hardly the gospel of hope, the “good news” that Jesus commanded his disciples to preach, is it? And this, believe it or not, represents a more subdued approach than that utilized in the imperial church of Justinian, through St. Augustine and John Calvin and into the Anglican and Puritan ethos.  Why such a horrid deity should be worthy of worship at all is the greater question.  I refer to my previous post and the passage by C. S. Lewis, “If He is not (in our sense) ‘good’ we shall obey, if at all, only through fear – and should be equally ready to obey an omnipotent Fiend….and thus turn Christianity into a form of devil-worship.” 

How the message of love and reconciliation presented in the New Testament morphed into contemporary Christianity’s doctrine of an angry God who tosses his creation, one by one, into a fiery hell to endure never-ending conscious torment is a tale all its own that begins in the fifth century of the church’s history and winds its way through Christendom into today’s seminaries and pulpits.  But for now, let’s leave the legacy of fear and see what the Christian scriptures actually say about Jesus’ mission, God’s plan and purpose and his goals for the fate of humanity.
Let’s temporarily suspend what we’ve been told by preachers and teachers and leaders who may have been blindly regurgitating the same doctrines their elders taught them or perhaps lacked the imagination, skill or intuition to exegete scriptures about hell and judgment and condemnation  without casting God into the role of a sadistic monster.  For these reflections, let’s look at the scriptures with a fresh perspective, with an open heart and with a keen awareness of what sort of plans and purposes one should expect of a God whose nature is infinitely wise, infinitely just and –most important of all – infinitely good.
1.        We begin with the announcement of Jesus’ arrival on earth by an angel to a group of shepherds saying, “I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.  For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10, 11)  The curtain opens on the gospel story with a celestial visitor proclaiming the event as one of “great joy to all people.”  A savior is born, for all people, not just some.  The great joy that will be experienced because of this savior is intended for everyone.  What a wondrous way to usher in God’s plan of reconciliation.  A joyful promise for all mankind.  Therefore with joy will you draw water from the wells of salvation.” (Isaiah 12:3)  These wells of salvation must be meant for all mankind, for only if all people are saved will all people know the great joy of which the angel speaks.
2.       We next visit the last great prophet in the scripture narrative, John the Baptist.  “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” (John 1:29) As the messenger whose purpose was to announce Jesus’ mission, to “prepare the way of the Lord”, John’s message regarding Jesus was very clear and very simple.  Jesus’ purpose was to take away the sin of the world.   “Sin” is singular, not because Jesus was to take away one sin or perhaps “a sin here and a sin there” but rather the totality of sin, the set of all sin, everywhere.  “World” is the Greek “kosmos”, meaning the created order.  Jesus’ mission, then, is to remove the totality of sin from the created order.  To eradicate sin everywhere.  If sin is taken away from the cosmos, how can any sinner remain?  For as long as sinners remain eternally and forever in hell, to that extent sin is not taken away, but remains.  Indeed, an endless hell would ensure eternal sin for imagine the hatred against God from those tormented forever.  The logical alternative that coheres with the idea that the totality of sin is to be removed from the created order is that ultimately all will be reconciled to God through Christ.  There can be no eternal sinners without sin.
3.       Jesus himself confirms this purpose at various times.  In his conversation with Nicodemus, a Pharisee who sought his counsel, he says, God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17)  Jesus’ words reflect those of the angel and John the Baptist, that he had come not to save a few or many, but the entire world, again the Greek “kosmos”, the created order.  And later to a group in Jerusalem, he says, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me". (John 12:32)  These words are direct and plain and offered without qualification.  The statement is definitively unconditional. Everyone will be drawn to Jesus.  Everyone will be gathered into him.  There is nothing in the context of the angel’s announcement, John’s proclamation or Jesus’ own words that would lead one to believe that his purpose was limited or restricted to a few or a select group.  Instead, the opposite sense is given by all of these passages, that this is to be an all-encompassing, transformative work, a cleansing of all sin, joy for all people, a rescue of mankind from itself.
4.       Jesus’ disciple, John (not to be confused with John the Baptist), who penned Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in his gospel letter, later reiterated to the church at large this same message in the first of his three epistles.  John writes, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.  The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.  (1 John 1:1-2 and 2:2).  Nothing could be clearer than the words of this disciple that Jesus’ work is intended to atone for “the sins of the whole world,” not just a select number.  John goes to great length emphasizing his own credentials as evidence of the trustworthiness of this assertion by affirming that he had personally seen and heard Jesus.  We are to understand that his testimony of this truth is direct and not hearsay.  From these and many other passages, it is clear that Jesus came to save sinners, all sinners, to take away the sin of the created order, the sins of the whole world.  
1.        Paul picks up where the gospel narratives leave off.  His letters to the various churches of Asia Minor paint a rich and glorious tapestry of God’s plan and purpose through Jesus’ life and death.  This vast canvas stretches as far and as wide as creation itself.  God is reconciling everyone and everything – all that is – into a restorative unity to himself through his Son.  Jesus becomes the catalyst and channel through which harmony and restoration will be achieved throughout the universe at large.  In his letter to the Roman and Corinthian churches, Paul lays the foundation for understanding God’s work of reconciliation as he details the philosophical and conceptual dynamics upon which this divine work is based.  He writes, “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive". (1 Cor. 15:22) and  “Just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. (Rom 5:18, 19). Here we find that pesky word “all” again, and this time it forms a very important bridge between two experiential realities:  the world of estrangement and death following Adam and the world of reconciliation and life following Christ.  Paul informs us of something quite profound.  From God’s perspective, there is an organic unity to the human race.  As all are in Adam, so all are in Christ.  As all are fallen in Adam, so all are reconciled in Christ.  This organic unity is the idea that the whole functions as an expression of the interdependent components of which it is made.  The “whole” does not cohere without each and every part of which it is comprised, and cannot properly be considered the thing it is if one or more of those component parts is excluded.  Paul uses this exact same analogy when he discusses the concept of the church.  In 1 Corinthians 12, he writes, Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body.  Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”  Just as a body is an organic unity, a “whole thing”,  only in the sense that it is an expression of its interdependent parts (the head, the limbs, the internal organs) and without each of those parts it no longer functions as a body, so too the body of Christ as a spiritual entity, and the human race as a holistic creation of God, is an organic unity, “a whole thing” in the sense that it is an expression of each and every member that comprises its organic set, and only if each and every member that belongs to that set is included. 
2.       Because the human race functions as an organic unity, each and every one of us is an interdependent part of the whole represented in Adam.  No one is excluded from the corporate body of death and estrangement evidenced through him.  We are, each of us, individually and collectively, irreversibly tied to Adam in every way that it is possible to be connected.  There are no exceptions.  In exactly that same way, Paul tells us, each and every one of us is an interdependent part of the whole represented in Christ.  No one is excluded from the corporate body of life and reconciliation we are given through him.  We are, each of us, individually and collectively, irreversibly bonded to Christ.  There are no exceptions. “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive". (1 Cor. 15:22)  The “all” in Adam is identical to the “all” in Christ.  All equals All.  And the “all” is the whole of the human race.   
1.       Thus Paul shares with us the philosophical and conceptual dynamics behind God’s plan of reconciliation, the organic unity of the human race.  But how pervasive is God’s plan?  Is it truly inescapable?    Paul thinks so.  He writes to the church at Colossae, For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Jesus), and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Col 1:19, 20). This pivotal verse encapsulates the theme of the New Testament as regards God’s plan of reconciliation.  Jesus Christ is the conduit through which “all that is”, whether things on earth or things in heaven, will be restored into a harmonious balance and brought into a restorative relationship with God.  The phrase “things on earth and things in heaven” is archetypical for all creation, all-inclusive.  Similarly, Paul expresses the same sentiment to the church at Ephesus.  “And this is the plan:  At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ – everything in heaven and on earth.  (Eph 1:10).  There could hardly be a clearer statement of God’s plan and Christ’s position it.  The words are so obvious that it’s hard to twist them into anything other than what they are: a definitive statement of God’s intention to reconcile absolutely everything to himself through Jesus Christ.  How, then, does eternal damnation fit into this scenario?  If, as Paul declares with vigor and clarity, God intends to restore everything (which would obviously include every person) to himself, how can there be souls in hell forever?  For as long as there are enemies of God (and by enemies, I mean those as Paul notes in Colossians 1:21 who remain alienated from God in their minds) then God has not brought everything together under the authority of Christ.  As long as evil exists, as long as humans rebel, as long as death and hell remain, to that extent God has triumphed in merely a partial way, which is to say, in no way at all.
2.       The only possibility is that evil, rebellion, death and hell are not eternal but temporary, and indeed the scriptures bear this out. God will triumph completely.  Universal  reconciliation, the restoration of each and every human being to a loving relationship with God and with each other, is the ultimate reality in a universe where everything is brought together under the authority of Christ. Paul is clear about this idea in his letter to the Philippians,  For this reason also, God highly exalted Him (Jesus), and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:9-11)  John the disciple echoes this exact same sentiment, a  parallel thought to that of Paul,  "And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, forever and ever". (Rev. 5:13) Here is another instance of the "common periphrasis" of the New Testament writers for “the universe”.  Every creature shall at last pay divine honors to God and the Lamb.  Contrary to some suggestions, the phrase “every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess” does not imply forced compliance, as if God is breaking the will of every creature to his own and forcing worship against their will before casting them into hellfire.  Such an idea hearkens back to the legacy of fear, of a power-hungry, self-absorbed deity void of genuine love and mercy and seeking only his own devices.  Indeed, the scriptures teach that confessing Jesus Christ as Lord to the glory of the Father is predicated on the following idea:  “No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3) and "If we confess with the mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in the heart that God hath raised him from the dead, we shall be saved." (Rom. 10:9) The clear and obvious sense of these passages is not a forced compliance but a genuine outpouring of love for one another and honor to the God who has reconciled all, wiped away every tear, destroyed death, defeated hate and despair, and imbued humanity with a sense of their true value. It is a sea of voices shouting honor and glory to the One who has opened every eye and changed every heart so that all of us, every single person who has ever lived, can finally understand who we are, and why we are, with each of us beginning to realize the truth that will take the rest of eternity to fully understand, the truth of the fathomless, infinitive love of our God.  As one theologian has said of this scene, "If this be not spiritual worship, I am unable to produce a case, where worship can be called spiritual and divine".
This scene of all humanity loving one another and loving the God who has always loved us and patiently waited for the time when each and every one of us embraces that truth and shares the unspeakable joy of such knowledge is a good place to end these reflections.
[The scriptures speak not only of God’s love and mercy but of his judgment and wrath as well.  I’m not so na├»ve as to disregard these themes or consider them unimportant or unworthy of consideration.  Perhaps in another post, shorter than this one(!) I can share what I believe the scriptures tell us about hell and judgment, sowing and reaping. ]

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

On A Divergent Path - Some Opening Thoughts

Some years ago I reached a spiritual crossroads in my journey through life.  It was not an epiphany or a sudden enlightenment but rather a long and arduous climb up a difficult path to a point where the way diverged.  At that fork in the road I knew that I could no longer embrace many of the beliefs that I had been taught as part of my religious heritage.   It wasn’t that I was rejecting Christianity or my belief in God.  I had stumbled my way through that minefield of doubt and disbelief earlier in life and emerged with a firm conviction in the purposefulness of the universe and its inherent intelligibility – attributes that presuppose intentionality, which presupposes intelligence, which in turn presupposes….ultimately…..God.

The question at issue as I paused on my spiritual journey wasn’t about the existence of God but rather about the existence of a particular kind of God.

I discovered that it’s not an easy task to deconstruct and examine ones beliefs.  Cultural and religious ideas are, in many ways, an indoctrination into a set of principles and behavior that define the very essence of how we see and measure ourselves and others.  Taking that apart and looking at it under the lens of objectivity and disinterested reason is well nigh impossible. Yet there is great value in examining our beliefs.  Socrates said that “the life which is unexamined is not worth living” and the apostle Paul wrote that one should “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you.”  If we haven’t carefully considered WHY we believe as we do, if we simply take for granted that those who taught us our ideals and values were themselves without fault or error, we do ourselves a disservice.  We can only claim our beliefs as our own if we’ve weighed their validity, trustworthiness and - most importantly - veracity and found that they ring true for our purposes.  Only then can we understand the deeper meaning of Jesus’ declaration that “the truth shall set you free”.  

Spreading open one’s core ideals on the table for inquisition, even for the purpose of revalidating them, can be unsettling and disconcerting, engendering a sense of nakedness and exposure.  Some might suggest that it’s imprudent or arrogant or even sacrilegious to do so.  As someone once suggested, “It’s just word-games and mental gymnastics that really don’t matter.  If you believe in Jesus, you go to heaven.  If you don’t, you go to hell.  End of story.”  And that is exactly where I decided to begin  – at the end of the story.  Because if anything matters, it should be the kind of deity to whom we offer our fidelity and his plans for our ultimate destination and that of our loved ones. 

Having been raised as a protestant fundamentalist, I could never quite understand why God was so mad at me and the rest of the world.  Even more perplexing was the notion that God was willing to condemn a portion of humanity (perhaps a large portion) to eternal torment.  I was taught that God is infinitely beneficent, that he loves us more than we can imagine, that in fact, God is love.  Despite this, God’s anger is kindled against us for sinning, for missing the mark of perfection.  This imperfection justifies an eternity in fiery torture.  There is an escape from this fate, however, by acknowledging that Jesus, who lived in first century Palestine and was executed by crucifixion, offered himself as a substitute on our behalf to satisfy God’s anger against our sin.  If we believe this, it will save us from hell and, by extension, secure for us an eternity of bliss in heaven.  Because God loves us so much, he has provided this means of escaping his wrath, although not all people will believe.

Here, then, is my initial question, where I paused on my journey:  Since it is human nature to be imperfect, what could God logically expect from human beings, other than that we behave according to our nature?  Indeed, no other option is available to us.  It would seem odd for a farmer to plant an orchard with oak trees then destroy them all because they failed to produce apples.  Just as it is the nature of oak trees to bear acorns, not apples, it is the nature of humanity to struggle with moral deficiencies rather than exhibit perfection.  Why then does the fact that our nature is inherently imperfect justify eternal torment? 

I wondered how it could be that Christ is the Savior of the world, as orthodox doctrine teaches, yet he is, in fact, the Savior of some whom he does not save.  And why doesn’t everyone qualify for heaven?  If Jesus’ sacrifice has satisfied God’s anger against sin, why would anybody need be confined to eternal damnation?

I wondered why orthodox theology portrays God as having a kind of bizarre schizophrenia, someone who professes absolute, perfect love for us while we are alive but at the moment of our death casts us forever into endless punishment.  How can any rational being love someone with infinite benevolence one moment, yet reject them the next moment and consign them to eternal torment?

I wondered how a God of perfect justice could condemn someone to an endless existence in hell for wrongdoings that occurred during the few years of their earthly life or sentence someone to an infinite punishment for a limited number of sins?  And how is it reasonable to conclude that while God expects obedience and righteousness from us here on earth, if he cannot have it, he will be satisfied with eternal disobedience and sin from us in the hereafter as a substitute.  This God seems unable to accomplish what most human parents do all the time:  integrate the virtues of justice and love into a balanced relationship for the ultimate good of his children.

None of it made sense and none of it seemed to cohere with the nature and attributes of an infinitely wise, omnipotent, beneficent being.  So, I asked myself, “What must God be like?” if he is indeed infinitely wise, infinitely powerful and infinitely good. 


C. S. Lewis, in his book The Problem of Pain offers this interesting insight:

“If God’s moral judgment differs from ours so that our ‘black’ may be His ‘white’, we can mean nothing by calling Him good; for to say ‘God is good’, while asserting that His goodness is wholly other than ours, is really only to say ‘God is we know not what’.  And an utterly unknown quality in God cannot give us moral grounds for loving or obeying Him.  If He is not (in our sense) ‘good’ we shall obey, if at all, only through fear – and should be equally ready to obey an omnipotent Fiend….and thus turn Christianity into a form of devil-worship.” 

Lewis is saying, in essence, that God’s moral character can be understood because it conforms to the same standards that any rational being would recognize.  “Good” for God must be, in a substantial sense, the same thing as “good” for humans.  Otherwise, we could know nothing of God’s character at all, nor could it form a moral basis for any sort of relationship.  While it is the case that in many ways God is inscrutable and mysterious, it cannot be the case that this inscrutability applies to his moral character, since as Lewis suggests, if God’s moral judgment is so incomprehensible that our ‘black’ may be his ‘white’, divine moral attributes become meaningless.  If in God’s moral landscape, ‘despair’ means ‘joy’ and ‘love’ means something completely foreign to our understanding of ‘love’, then there is no moral foundation upon which to comprehend God, much less to love and respect him. 

We can say with confidence then that all of God’s moral attributes – love, mercy, goodness, justice, wrath and truth – can be understood in the common sense meaning of these words insofar as they apply to humanity and to a human understanding of God’s character.  And since, as St. Anselm observed, God is “that than which no greater can be conceived”, it follows that all of God’s moral attributes are exhibited in perfection, without flaw and without contradiction among their various expression.

It may be tempting to add a caveat and suggest that God can do whatever he chooses and act in any manner that he wants.  After all, he’s God.  His ways are higher than our ways, his thoughts higher than our thoughts, as the writer tells us (Isaiah 58:8, 9).  It is the height of arrogance to presume to know God’s motives or intentions. He is under no obligation to conform to anything just because someone believes he should.

That line of thinking may appear superficially valid, (because, in fact, God does do whatever he wants to do) but it’s an example of spurious reasoning that can result in nonsense.  While it is true that God is under no obligation to conform to human ideas, he is obliged to conform to his own moral character.  There are many things that God is constrained from doing.  He will not lie.  He will not act unjustly.  He will not behave in any manner that is contrary to a rational, free agent whose being comprises moral perfection.  Nor would God desire to do so, or even contemplate acting in such a manner.  God only does that which is morally perfect.  If a doctrine teaches otherwise, it is the theology that is faulty, not God’s character.

Reflecting on this idea, I began to consider some aspects of what currently passes as orthodox doctrine within the Christian tradition, and how these doctrines reflect on the moral perfection of God, logical possibilities and the ultimate destiny of humanity.  And thus I began a very long survey into the issues surrounding soteriology – the theory of salvation - as it is currently taught within protestant Christianity.

In the process, I discovered something quite remarkable.  There really is a gospel of hope.  There really is “good news”, in fact very hopeful news, about our eternal futures.
In an upcoming post, I’d like to share it with you.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Trout and Other Flatlanders

I finished my meetings in Quito in the early afternoon, returned to the hotel to compose a report and emailed it to the office.  That meant I had a couple of hours of daylight left, so I tossed my dress clothes in the closet, put on my running gear and headed outdoors for my daily run. 

There happens to be a beautiful park a few blocks from the hotel, with jogging trails and flowering greenery, and with this spectacular view:

So, I cranked up the iPhone, flipped through my music catalog for something appropriately inspiring and took off, like I'd done hundreds of times before.

Two minutes later, I noticed something.  My breathing seemed labored.  Ah, yes, I said to myself.   I'm running in a city that's 9300 feet above sea level.  In the Andes Mountains.  I should take it easy.  So I slowed to a fast jog.

For two minutes.  My legs were loose and ready to pump, my lungs felt clear and open, I was motivated to circle this beautiful park until sweat soaked my clothes.  There was only one small problem:  there didn't seem to be any oxygen.  I downshifted to a very slow jog and inhaled as deeply as I could with every breath.  I'd been in this city for three days, I'd walked miles and miles with little effort, but as I changed pace from a slow walk to a steady jog, it started to make a huge difference. 

I really wanted to run the perimeter of this park and enjoy its beauty.  There was no guarantee that I would ever return.  So I pressed on.

I made it this far...maybe a mile....and it took me thirty minutes.  I stopped, gasping for the few oxygen molecules drifting by on the breeze.  A couple of local folks ran past me, carrying on a conversation as they raced forward and I wondered how it was possible for them to do that. I sat on the grass for a long while. Then I got up and walked.  Slowly.

Heading back to the hotel, an image came to mind of a fish out of water, panting for air that he was unable to assimilate.  A lifelong flatlander running in the mountains?  Just call me trout.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


How cool it would have been to be here:

(Royal Albert Hall in London)

When Gustavo Dudamel was conducting this:

(Arturo Marquez' Danzon No. 2)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sunday Morning Absolution

The sky is the color of water at the shallow end of a pool.  The hue is perfect for the day, a cool blue to complement a cool morning.  The sun is awake and in a pleasant mood, bright and inviting, splashing everything in the backyard with a gentle warmth that balances beautifully with a slight and lilting breeze.   Nature has composed a singularly spectacular morning, one without a tether to the season of its birth.  It is neither too hot nor too cold, and had I been dropped onto this patio chair from some distant void, I could not say  with certainty whether this day belonged to spring or autumn or to the capriciousness of an Indian summer.  I could only say that it is surely not winter.
But it is winter, of course.  A wet and dreary one, so far.  On this day however, this delightful morning adorned with the sounds of a single mocking bird calling from the high branches of an oak and a small flock of doves cooing on the utility line traversing the alley, a reprieve has been granted from the dismal, soggy grayness .  Nature is sometimes kind.  Today she is truly beneficent.   So I drink it in.
The cat is pleased that I’m outside.  She acknowledges her happiness by ignoring me with more deference than usual.  Her tail casually swings right and left as she surveys the ginger grove along the rear fence line, ever vigilant for her favorite prey, hapless lizards sunning on the stalks. I watch her disappear behind the garage.  Shortly she’ll emerge with a tiny, panting reptile in her mouth and I’ll admonish her to let the poor creature go.  She’ll settle beneath the patio chair farthest from my reach and play the role of a feline Zeus, alternately tormenting and liberating her little victim until she tires of the game.  I’ll sigh with a kind of Darwinian resignation.  There are simply too many lizards to save them all.
Luci has opened the back door and raised a few windows, inviting the day inside.  I hear her puttering about the kitchen through the open doorway.  It’s a pleasant sound.  She emerges on the stoop and asks if I hear the sound of children talking and laughing.  I do, I say.  They’re passing our house on the street.  We both listen and smile and Luci goes back inside.
Haruki Murakami’s “The Wind Up Bird Chronicle” sits on the patio table to my left, waiting for me to awaken the bookmark sleeping among its pages.  There is no better sort of day than this to read, a day without pressing tasks or obligations, with the sun warming my back and a quiet, meditative flow ebbing through the neighborhood. 
A large ant has climbed onto the cover of Murakami’s novel, wending its way in a zig-zag fashion from bottom to top.  It stops to notice the title, considers its discovery for a moment, then continues on its journey down the side of the book and off onto the table top.  I imagine that if an ant could read, Murakami is precisely the kind of writer that would appeal to it.
A squirrel begins to chatter in the neighbor’s tree in that dreadfully monotonous way that signals their territory is threatened.  No doubt the cat is deliberately sunning at the base of the tree housing their nest. 
The morning has given way to noon while I’ve sat here daydreaming and bathing in the fragrance of a temporary timelessness.   A yellow butterfly glides by my chair and lands on the lantana nearby.  The sun has now shifted across the sky and shadows dapple parts of the yard that were earlier in sunlight.  I think a glass of cabernet would be a nice accompaniment to my book.  Soon I’ll find my way to the kitchen and pour myself a glass and give Luci a quick kiss and rearrange my chair so that the sun is once again at my back.   For now, though, I  sit and breathe and simply enjoy the day. 
The cat appears from nowhere and jumps onto the chair to my left, the one closest to me.  She settles into the cushion and begins to nap.  I think of doing the same.