Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The End of the Beginning of the End of the Beginning

Life is strange.  Every moment is both an ending and a beginning, a completion and a new unfolding, a death and a rebirth.  Yet, physically and perhaps mentally, I will never again be able to begin my life.  That's an odd and uncomfortable thought.  Unless amnesia suddenly strikes me or I regress to a fetus somehow, I will never be able to begin my life over.  Remnants of deeds and feelings and experiences will always be with me, as will the ramifications of my choices.  

I think that the Bible is notable for its crazy, realistic characters, if for nothing else.  The Gospel According to John especially has struck me over the past year for the boldness and curiousness of its inhabitants.  One of them, an anonymous disciple of Jesus, seems to speak for me right now.  Jesus has just said that people who eat his flesh and blood will live forever and that people have no life in them if they do not eat his flesh and drink his blood.  John records that "On hearing it, many of his disciples said: 'This is a hard teaching.  Who can accept it?'" (John 6:60, New International Version).  I concur.  These are hard teachings.  Who can accept them? How can I accept the sadness of never beginning again?  Can hope be something that reaches into the past as well as the future?  Can I hope for my past?  I've made so many mistakes in my life that sometimes I am daunted by them and afraid to try new things.  

Elsewhere in John, a Pharisee named Nicodemus approaches Jesus seeking truth.   He compliments Jesus on his teaching and assures him that he believes that Jesus has God.  And Jesus, of course, says "Thank you, you are dressed quite nicely today.  That robe is nicely tailored with plenty of tassels."  Wait.  No.  Jesus answers as cryptically as he possibly can:

"I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again (or "born from above," or "born again from above"  -- the Greek is ambiguous)."  (3:3)

Nicodemus is, naturally, confused.  "How can a man be born when he is old?  Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born?" (3:4)

Amen to that, brother Nic!  That's scientifically impossible (at least at present).  Jesus answers: "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit....The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." (3:5-8)

This passage comforts me.  My body can never be reborn and the damage from years of sprained ankles, drinking pop (or soda) and eating carbs can never be erased.  My mind cannot just be wiped clean of my memories.  But my spirit is another matter all together.  My spirit, my soul, is the deepest part of me.  And it is the part of me that has the truest second chance.  It is the part of me that can be truly transformed.  I may not be able to change my bad back or my acid reflux, I may not be able to erase the memories of my failures and defeats, but the spirit within me that reacts to these failures and weaknesses can be changed.  There is a mystery inside my very bones, something that no one can understand.  No one knows where it comes from or to where it goes.  It has no beginning or end.  Or, in another way, it has an infinite number of beginnings and endings.  Within it is the end of the beginning of the end of the beginning.  In my spirit I do not have to worry that all of my beginnings are gone.  

Lamentations (yes, that weepy book of the Bible about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Exile of the Israelites) contains within its great sadness a great hope, upon which is based one of the most famous hymns of all time (and one of my mom's favorites).  Chapter 3 begins with a catalogue of the ways that the writer has been afflicted, including having his heart pierced with arrows and his teeth broken with gravel.  He laments his loss of peace and wails:

"I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.  I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.  Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (3:19-23)

God's compassion is new every morning.  We are not consumed.  There is something that is new, newly born, brand-spankin'-right-out-of-the-box-still-in-its-protective-hermetically-sealed-cover-in-mint-condition new.  And we are not consumed.  Hallelu - jah!

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