Monday, December 25, 2006


It will soon be the first day of the New Year and of all the rest of our lives. What have we carried forward from past days, and years? It has been said that an economist is a man who knows a great deal about very little, and who goes along knowing more and more about less and less, until finally he knows practically everything about nothing. So it seems with me, and so it probably is with many others--if we expect to become any wiser. Those who have attained a majority of years might try it for themselves. Think back to ages eighteen or twenty—recall how wise and knowing we were then. I would like to be so smart once again, if only for an hour. That is of course about as long as such wisdom can bear the light of this day. If the truth be told, we learn more and more of how much we do not know, if we learn anything. How wise then, are the ones who finally recognize how little they know after all; and possibly also how relieved. (A case in point might be our nation’s long-standing, revered economist Alan Greenspan who unburdened himself of his great responsibilities; beyond a couple of cautionary words he demonstrated admirable brevity in recommending very little for the future--clearly a wiser chairman).

Here it is another New Year and we have been facing the elements as never before; prior learning is not always immediately sufficient to this unprecedented onslaught of air, earth, fire and water. Winds and floods, snows, mud-slides and flames rage out of control as never before. We must learn new ways to cope, but where does one look for knowledge we have not yet learned? Here I am reminded of a line spoken by Reb Tevye when asked just how his ancient customs and traditions of Judaism came to be the way they are. With wonder and almost joyfulness in his voice he replies, “Well, I’ll tell you, I don’t know”! This simple and ordinary man was expressing his wonder and glory for God, who already knows what is unfolding—and how inadequate our own understanding is beside it. He was evidently impressed that God’s greatness is regularly proven by how far short we mortals are of such reasoning. For wisdom we might do well to heed Matthew 6:33 wherein he says “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness”. All else will follow.

Saturday, December 16, 2006


It reminds me of something I had written before, something along these lines: “Christmas is a-coming and the goose is getting fat, please to put a penny in the old man’s hat. If you haven’t got a penny then a hape/ny will do—and if you haven’t got a hape’ny, then God Bless you.” Of course I did not write that part, it is from an old English nursery rhyme, but I did feel that there is nothing like the Christmas tradition to plunge older folks into second childhoods. Even as we are reminded, from our consciences and church meetings that the real meaning of Christmas is something else, something far more important than tinsel and colored lights,, there remains that flutter and tingle at the sight of bright packages and holiday food.

Counting out the days to the Eve of Christmas still arouses a half-forgotten anticipation—meaning that sometimes you wiggle and smile in spite of yourself. There’s all the delightful secrets that make you laugh out loud when you think of them, or itch with curiosity. The parties and the visits with friends and relatives only add to the growing crescendo, each one drawing the Holy Night nearer and nearer.

The point is, I think that here, quite unlike anywhere else, one can anticipate joy, and as the fine writer Henri Nouwen said, “Joy is always new. There is a lot of old sadness, but there is never old joy. Joy is always a surprise, and that’s ecstasy.” (from Radix Vol.15:6).

Friday, December 08, 2006


These are the results of doing right or doing wrong; they are administered by others, judgmentally or otherwise. They include parents, teachers, bosses, marital partners, social groups, peers and even our children. They can all make us aware of our successes or failures, great or small. In the nineteen fifties the school of behavioral therapy and operant conditioning came into prominence, and most of us have never been quite the same since.

We have learned to call these things positive or negative reinforcement, more politically if not socially correct. This is still reward or punish, and may hurt or please the recipients. We now are able to train and modify (This is sometimes called behavior modification) the behavior of animals, most children, and adults with behavioral disorders, as never before. Practitioners need to be trained and licensed, however, and may often (and most probably should) draw the line at some requests for their skills.

So much for the didactic stuff; other “people” may do these things to us but “Life” does not. It has been observed that in life there are no rewards or punishment, only “experience” as the teaching medium. Learning from experience is essential to continued well-being and success, but the latter is still up to us. Rewards may or may not follow; results are always in the eye of the beholder.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


This need not be morbid unless one makes it that way; it comes in the midst of life--and to all of us at some unspecified time. From warm seaside days, lazed away so carelessly, emerges another view of our endless ritual. There are people out on the shore of a late November afternoon, out in the ebbing sunlight, clinging to the fading light of shorter days—end of suntanned bodies, end of a season—each passing golden moment dies so quickly, each new one follows, dying in its train. These cherished moments are like departed loves—they will reappear only as dim memories—perhaps as dried, dusty and faintly aromatic rose petals in a keepsake box. This summer dies away and next year’s distant summer will be an altogether different one. What is now passing away—lost and gone, represents the whole ponderous weight of earth-time, a giant clock somewhere ticking out its lostness. Often easily foretold, here is a chosen hour—of mourning, of loss and separation—and regret. Perhaps this sense of mournful loss is closest to the picture of last moments we are most familiar with; so far as anyone knows it is not our own that we experience, it is always someone else’s. Unfamiliar dark and polished furniture, scent of fading cut flowers with muted organ music and muted voices—the humid hush of “a fine funeral”; “Death comes rubbing white-gloved hands, and smiling” (T. S. Eliot). All in Sunday clothes, the strangeness, coldness and stiffness of the designated “mourners” seem to mirror that of the “Dearly Departed” now occupying center stage. What is celebrated as an “Event” has probably been building up for years, and will now go on forever. From a study of Scriptures this is part of our eternity; how that will be played out is in our own hands—and God’s.

It must be said that He can deal with these things much better than we can all alone; last moments are often problematic. But some one has already asked, “How would anything ever get done here on earth if it were not for last minute dead-lines?”