Monday, December 28, 2015

Correct Time?

What do we mean by saying “Happy New Year”? Do we really believe there is something new about the condition of starting a fresh calendar? Or, do we mean that we hope life will improve as we continue to measure something we cannot define with clocks and calendars? I usually think of this season of the year as a time to reflect upon the trial and error called life. What should I correct in my life from past experience and what areas of life should I encourage?
Some writers go a little deeper. William Faulkner, the great Mississippi novelist, for example, wrote that there is no such thing as “was.” He explained that if “was” existed, there would be no sadness or sorrow. I guess he meant that since the past is gone forever, we must be sad or sorrowful. I can see that would be true if there were some idyllic past that we wish we could live in, like the many anachronistic Civil War reenactors who wish those days were back. I can also see that, for them at least, the past is not really gone—“was” exists.
Along those lines, the French philosopher Bergson and the French writer Proust posited the proposition that everything we ever experience stays with us. For them, there is no such thing as forgetting. We have all had involuntary remembrances of the sort that a smell or sound or other sensation suddenly brings back a whole experience from our past, a whole hunk of time that does not seem momentary. Every time I smell watermelon, I am taken back to my childhood and Aunt Sarah’s front porch where we feasted on cold melons in the hot summer time. Whiskey breath brings back some not-so-pleasant memories in the same involuntary way. So the French thinkers must have been onto something.
Don’t shrinks say something along those lines as well? You know, that all our experiences are filed away somewhere in our grey matter. Perhaps that would explain the phenomenon of our whole lives flashing before our eyes in a moment of eminent danger. I have often wondered where it stops. When the flashing show gets to the moment of the flashing show, does the flashing show replay and if so for how long? This has implications of eternity. (I am only kidding, of course).
But on a serious note, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, having been influenced by Aristotle, that time is the number of motion. He meant that our clocks and calendars measure the movements of the cosmos, nothing more. A clock or calendar has nothing at all to do with my state of consciousness at, say, 3:00 p.m. We are simply measuring the revolutions and rotations of our terrestrial orb, are we not? So, time is manmade, our way of dealing with the immensity of God’s eternity. There are no clocks in Heaven because there is nothing to measure there.

I am glad for our measurements, however. It gives us the means of celebrating Christmas and of saying “Happy New Year” without even thinking of what we mean by that.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Shepherd King

The city was so crowded people were camping wherever they could find a space. Her labor pains started just before they hit the city limits coming in for the census. Because of the urgency of their situation, one would think some kind innkeeper would find a place for them and one apparently did: the barn. At least there was a roof over it and hay for bedding and a little warmth from the animals. There were cows, goats, sheep, a few donkeys and a noisy tribe of sore-footed camels in there. It was not a quiet place. The concerned couple found a stall that separated them from the lowing occupants of the barn and set up housekeeping. When the baby was born healthy and loud, the animals nearby got quiet and at least two cows and a camel knelt down in the hay.
A rather large flock of sheep were bedded down just outside of town and when the birth took place the heavens appeared to open and great angelic beings appeared in much light and began to sing praises. One of them spoke to the shepherds, saying, “Something good for you has happened in town, an event for you to be joyful about—a savior, the Messiah has been born.” When the vision closed, the eldest shepherd said, “Come on. Let’s leave a couple with the sheep and head into town to see if we can find our savior that the angels said was born for us.” So they went in and were guided directly to the stall in the barn where the baby was asleep in a trough converted into a baby bed. They told about the vision and what the angels had said, but the young couple did not seem surprised. They allowed the shepherds to get a good look and kiss the sleeping child.
So, these humble shepherds were the first to hear about the great event but it did not take long for the wise and sophisticated to learn of the birth. Kings from the Babylonian region had been studying prophecy and other phenomena that led them to understand that the Messiah, the king of kings, would be born in Bethlehem and now they had an exciting heavenly apparition to encourage them to seek Him out. They packed up their animals with rich treasures and followed the newly-appeared star through rough country until they dropped down into Bethlehem to find the child, just as they had anticipated. They brought gifts and worshipped the youngster, fully awed by this wonderful culmination of their long quest.

Shepherds found the one who would call Himself the great shepherd and kings found the One who would be known as the King of Kings. We have the privilege of being shepherded by this one born in a barn and we have the joy of being ruled over by this eternal king. He was born in the humblest of circumstances and now sits at the right hand of all power. His kingdom will have no end.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Don't Make Santa Claus Mad

Among the characters I portray for Historic Washington State Park are Dr. Purdom, Judges Conway and Royston and a Confederate codger named Danny. The park wardrobe department provides an authentic wool suit, complete with top hat. Because of the pretty vest, that outfit accentuates a part of my anatomy I am trying unsuccessfully to control, namely my belly. Sporting that feature along with my little round period glasses, I suppose I looked a bit like Santa Claus at last Saturday’s Christmas and Candlelight event at the park.
Maybe that’s why the mayor’s wife called me aside and told me she and the mayor were part of a progressive dinner soon and they wanted me to portray Father Christmas for it. You see, the park has a very beautiful bishop’s costume, as well as extravagantly realistic whiskers, worn by the person designated as Father Christmas as he roams around the park greeting people and handing out peppermint during the two evenings of Christmas and Candlelight. I have never been asked to perform that role until the First Lady of Washington approached me about it.
So, I have been studying the real St. Nicholas whom I shall portray at the dinner in a couple of weeks. I found out some interesting things about this historical figure, including the report that he was a signer of the Nicene Creed, having been a prime mover in that Council. Here is as far as I have gotten in my preparation for my portrayal.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I have come to you here in Washington from the third century. My home is in the village of Patara in what is now Turkey. My folks were quite wealthy, but they died while I was young, leaving me a considerable inheritance, which I used to help the sick and the poor in Patara. Because of my zeal and deep belief in Our Lord, I was eventually made bishop of Myra.
“That is why I carry this shepherd’s staff. Bishops traditionally use this curved stick as a symbol of their office and as a depiction of what they do. They reach out with the crook to rescue and bring in; they urge the recalcitrant along with the other end; they use it to fight off any entity that would attack their sheep.
“Once I rescued three sisters from a poor family who had no dowry. They were unable to marry and would have doubtless been sold into slavery. So I tossed three bags of gold into their stockings as they dried above the fireplace, so that the next morning they found themselves saved. Another time, a ship full of wheat was docked in my town and I convinced the sailors to give me half the wheat for the poor, assuring them that it would be restored as they sailed to their destination. They gave me the wheat and later reported that it had been miraculously restored when they arrived in Constantinople.

“And, I hesitate to relate this, but Roman Bishop Arius was close to apostate at the Nicene Council and I smacked him in his heresy spewing mouth. Yes, Santa Claus can get mad.”