About a month has passed since my last post. It has been a busy month filled with things to do. Limited means to do what has to be done implies that more time has to be invested but finally with the ever present help of Divine Providence all was done. The blog had to suffer though. To motivate me to write yesterday I got a message from the wife of a dear friend of mine and a mother of three beautiful and smart young ladies. She was afflicted with a very aggressive form of cancer. Good doctors managed to arrest the illness through surgery and treatment. The whole process lasted about a year and she was declared free of cancer. She has lived for quite some time fearing a recurrence. She has reasons to be afraid, few people survive that kind of cancer. A few months ago we spoke about her wanting a “sign from God” that the awful thing would not come back. We talked at length about how God is good, how He is a benefactor and how everything the good Lord sends to us is for our good, even those things that put us through suffering. I remembered the words of C. S. Lewis, brought to life by Sir Anthony Hopkins in Shadowlands.
“Isn’t God supposed to be good? Isn’t He supposed to love us? Does God want us to suffer? What if the answer to that question is, ‘Yes’“? I suggest to you that it is because God loves us that He makes us the gift of suffering. I’m not sure that God wants us to be happy. I think He wants us to be able to love and be loved. He wants us to grow-up. We think our childish toys bring us all the happiness there is and our nursery is the whole wide world. But something must drive us out of the nursery to the world of others and that something is suffering. You see, we are like blocks of stone out of which the sculptor carves forms of men. The blows of His chisel, which hurt so much, are what makes us perfect.”
In our chats we covered this issue. We can elevate ourselves nearer to God’s level of understanding by being thankful for His efforts to perfect us, for shaking our false concept of security: a house, a family, a car, bills paid, employment, and so forth. For starts, the danger of losing our life makes even the most mundane things very precious. A kiss, holding hands, sharing a meal, a walk … all turn into shiny diamond jewelry on Tiffany’s main window. We gain depth, we love more intensely, we seek instinctively the source of life: Our God.
All of that is nothing but a lot of words if we do not make an effort to understand the value of life. We cannot do that without knowing what life itself is. Now, about that there are many theories, hypothesis, great thoughts but they all mean very little if they come from people that live like ourselves, one heartbeat away from the grave.
Our ancient pagan ancestors had a myriad of religious practices to represent those mysteries. Researchers and archaeologists working at Stonehenge a few years ago, discovered the remains of a “Woodhenge” not far from the famous circle of stones. Apparently the ancient inhabitants of that place represented the mystery of life with two materials: wood for this life tied to the earthly cycles, stone for the life beyond. Somehow those prehistoric thinkers realized that the life beyond was everlasting. They used stones to symbolize it: wood decays but is always renewed in the forest, there is always new trees. Stones appeared to them as detached from the cycles of nature that a man could see in his brief lifetime. The Greeks called that anakuklosis, that nature follows cycles progressing “always at a higher level” according to Polybius.
I know this is turning into another one of those “stream of consciousness” pieces that I dislike but my readers seem to appreciate so much – yet I promise you all will tie up in the end.
The widow and the Temple
I always wondered why the story of the poor widow was tied by St Luke to the prophetic images of the destruction of the Temple.
He [Jesus] looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.” When some were speaking about the Temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
My last post The Seventeenth Day was about the destruction of the Temple. You may remember that the Temple of Solomon and the Temple of Herod were both destroyed on the same date, the 9th day of the month of Av but previously both invaders managed to breach the walls of the city also in the same day: the 17th day of the month of Tamuz. Quite a coincidence considering the Babylonians did it in 588 BC and the Romans in 70 AD. Is there a cycle there? Did God intend to call our attention to something? It is almost to be expected that a third event will follow that pattern, since many of these things happen in “threes” but I will leave that for another post.
I imagine the widow depositing her last two copper coins, enough perhaps to buy some oil for an hour or two of one of the Temple lights. She is a widow, she has not a husband anymore, she lives frugally, perhaps alone eking a living from the charity of others. What is going into the Temple coffers is her livelihood. The majestic imposing Temple, the quiet darkness where she is going to pray and worship the God of Israel seems to me a good analogy of her life, she rests in God for her sustenance, the light of life inside her is waning, her days of joy and fruitfulness are gone and now she waits to be reunited to her ancestors. Her entering the Temple is a prelude, a general rehearsal of her entering into that rock-like unchangeable eternity, the summer without end that only can be seen through the eyes of faith. In faith she drops those last two coins, the last of her treasure. Unaware that God Incarnated is watching her every move, she is completely oblivious to the fact that her action will be registered for eternity in the Gospel. The Temple will not last four more decades but the memory of the widow’s two mites will last until the mountains are turn into dust: they are kept unchanged in God’s memory. With this parable Christ reverses the pagan representation of eternity. What seems hard and durable, secure, indestructible is less durable than one true act of mercy and faith.
We end every recitation of the Apostle’s Creed with the words “and life everlasting.” What is that “life everlasting” that we believe in and deserves to be there in the concluding line of the Creed?
We believe that we have a kind of life here and now, a life that has an end. This life is useful mainly to get to that other everlasting life. Just before lighting strikes there is an electrical surge that comes from earth and reaches a short distance upward. That small surge “calls” the energy stored high in the atmosphere and instantly the lightning bolts from the sky discharging enormous amounts of energy on that point. That tiny surge could be used to represent our present life. The force coming from the sky could represent (albeit imperfectly) the everlasting inner life of the Holy Trinity that God wants to share with us.
Our body’s defensive walls, like Jerusalem’s will be breached one day. The forces of disorder and chaos will gradually conquer every cell until the inner sanctum is invaded and the matter of our body rejoins the inanimate world. The stones of our temple will collapse but our works of mercy will raise upwards seeking the plentiful source of energy that is God. We were created for that life. That is the reason we were given a body, an instrument for giving and receiving mercy. In this body we are perfected until we are deemed worthy of everlasting life.
Psalm 136:1,16-18 — O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, who led his people through the wilderness, for his steadfast love endures for ever; who struck down great kings, for his steadfast love endures for ever; and killed famous kings, for his steadfast love endures for ever.
And may I add: “For He defeated death (and cancer too) and gave us life everlasting, so we can be witnesses of his steadfast love that endures forever.”