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Measuring My Days

January 2008
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“We believe that the coming of Jesus revealed the fullness of history, that a loving, almighty Father providentially guides human affairs. When you think of all the human conceptions of God throughout the ages, from the violent, passionate gods of Greek and Rome to the Aztec deities that demanded human sacrifice or the Absentee Landlord of Deism, the Christian notion that the transcendent God is a Loving Father is startling. But that is what Christians believe. Although not without its reasons, this belief is an article of faith. We cannot prove it, and to modern secular ears it must sound terribly naive. Nor do we claim to be able to delineate the contours of exactly how, when and where His providence transparently superintends history. Jesus himself warned that it is not for us to know “the days and hours” (Matthew 24:36). But as we begin a new year, we do so believing that Jesus, like us “born of a woman” with all the historical contingencies that entails, embodies the “fullness of time” and history. He calls us to follow Him in a filial relationship with a God who leads, guides and loves us with a fatherly compassion.”  Dan Clendenin, The Fullness of Time

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          Mindful of the chaos and turmoil elsewhere in our world as the calendar turns to a new  year, blessed peace with gratitude is my lot on this New Years Day.  I am at once both safely ensconced at home on Piney Mountain and in my reveries a traveler at various venues in the near and far east. My travels having taken me to crossroads along the legendary Silk Road, I find myself now engrossed in the travels of Colin Thubron, a British writer whose books about Russia, the Near East, and China have distinguished him as the pre-eminent authority on this part of the world.  His most recent book, Shadow of the Silk Road, has been described as an “astonishing achievement, a work of boundless riches, with erudition, exquisite shimmering prose, shocking, and deeply engaging.”  Because I had already read much that he has written, no wonder that I could not wait to join him for this new adventure.  I travel now vicariously via armchair to other parts of the world, satisfied to do so sans passports, visas, and the whole gamut of current travel impositions and inconveniences while safely free of exposure to disease and fear of terrorists.

 

                 Having Thubron as my guide and travel companion, I have been returning with him to points along the Silk Road where my Air Force and Peace Corps work and journeys once had taken me – places like Samarkand, Tashkent, Tehran, Tabriz, Kandahar, Kabul, Antakya (Antioch) -- and traveling with him via donkey carts, buses, trains, jeeps and camels elsewhere along the Marco Polo route that extends seven thousand miles from China into the mountains of Central Asia, across Afghanistan and the plains of Old Persia into Kurdish Turkey.  With his descriptions, long forgotten tableaus return to my memory and I am there vividly again, deeply grateful that my own travels have intersected with Thubron’s along my enigmatic pilgrim way.

            My earliest memories of traveling via books to far away places with strange sounding names include Pearl Buck’s description of her early life in China in The Good Earth and James Hilton’s description of an earthly Shangri-la in his novel Lost Horizon – a nearly inaccessible lamasery lost deeply in the Himalayas, so Edenic and remote from civilization that residents retained their youth and lived extremely long lives.  Perhaps therein was bred in me a wanderlust, an insatiable need to see as much of this Big Blue Marble as my opportunities and resources would allow.  Alas, my several passports have now expired.  Some of them are perhaps archived at the State Department’s Foggy Bottom, surrendered because they were stamped “Diplomat”.  Others lie quietly serene in a black briefcase in my study, testament to my many passages through entrepots labeled Immigration Control in countries around the globe.  Rest in Peace… 

 

            Reading Thuron, what keeps being rekindled are the reminders of how grateful I felt then, as I do now, while witnessing in these venues with my own eyes the devastating poverty into which the vast majority of the world’s people are born.  Perhaps my most keenly remembered experience was living for two months in Vladivostok following the dissolution of the Soviet Empire.  I went “home” to Kentucky for Christmas that year and found Americans shopping with golf carts piled high in a giant supermarket where food shelves were stacked to the ceiling.  In Russia markets were then rationed with mostly empty shelves.  Vocabulary limits my ability to describe all that I felt then as now while contrasting American wealth with that of so many other lands where destiny had taken me. One supreme certainty was mine:  God had blessed our United  States beyond all that I could comprehend.

              

“The truth we must love in loving our brothers is the concrete destiny and sanctity that are willed for them by the love of God.  One who really loves another is not merely moved by the desire to see him contented and healthy and prosperous in this world.  Love cannot be satisfied with anything so incomplete.  If I am to love my brother, I must somehow enter deep into the mystery of God’s love for him.  I must be moved not only by human sympathy but by that divine sympathy which is revealed to us in Jesus and which enriches our own lives by the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.”

    Thomas Merton, No Man Is An Island

 

“We have to realize that we cannot earn or win anything from God through our own efforts.  We must either receive it as a gift or do without it.  The greatest spiritual blessing we receive is when we come to the knowledge that we are destitute.  Until we get there, our Lord is powerless.  He can do nothing for us as long as we think we are sufficient in and of ourselves.  We must enter into His kingdom through the door of destitution.  As long as we are “rich,” particularly in the area of pride or independence, God can do nothing for us.  It is only when we are hungry spiritually that we receive the Holy Spirit.  The gift of the essential nature of God is placed and made effective in us by the Holy Spirit.  He imparts to us the quickening life of Jesus, making us truly alive.  He takes that which was “beyond” us and places it “within” us.  And immediately, once “the beyond” has come “within,” it rises up to “the above,” and we are lifted into the kingdom where Jesus lives and reigns (see John 3:5). 

   Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest.

                           

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     “There are so many prisoners in the world. We cannot free all of them, maybe not even one. But one thing the prisoner always suffers from is feeling abandoned, feeling given up, that he or she doesn't count anymore--to anyone! That is our work. We must see to it that that prisoner should know that there is always one person, or one group, dealing with human rights--who thinks of him or her in prison. Those who are sick, who are prisoners of their disease, be they victims of Alzheimers -- the worst of all diseases because it attacks identity -- or patients with AIDS or cancer, or victims of poverty, despair, racism; they should know that they are not alone. If I cannot, and you cannot, cure and help all of them, or not even one of them, at least we can be present to them in their special situation, their condition of suffering.”

 Elie Wiesel, Commencement Address, DePaul University, June 15, 1997

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“Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace.  God is awake.”

                             Victor Hugo