January 2, 2008

Raise a Rock

Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.

Frederick Buechner

The second day of another new year is as good a day as any to pause and consider the incomparable gift of your life thus far. (I suppose the first day of the year would be a bit more symbolic, but between bouncing back and forth among bowl games and simmering another pot of black-eyed peas on the range, who's feeling very reflective on New Year's Day?) It's never a bad idea to sabbath for a moment and mark the passing time.

Before she died at the impressive age of 103, I had the distinct pleasure as her pastor of attending three consecutive centenarian celebrations for Myrtle McCutchen and her over-a-hundred colleagues at Westminster-Canterbury. Talk about a birthday party! When you are 100 or more, the event feels more like a pep rally! When they all rolled out—some of them under their own steam, mind you—it was all I could do not to hop up from my seat and shout "You go, girls!" (My bowtie and blue blazer quickly reminded me of my station as a Presbyterian minister, and I thought better of it.) But there they were, seven of them, each one with ten decades of life under her belt.

I suppose a century makes for a mostly automatic marker—one cannot help but take notice. But for the rest of us "kids," it's not so involuntary. Marking the fleeting time, noticing our peculiar stories as they unfold—these take a little effort. What's more, as baptized folk, such marking is always an act of purposeful prayer. Paying attention to your unfolding life is a way of saying to the Lord, "Thus far you have helped me. Thank you."

Likely you have sung two dozen times Robert Robinson's famous words in our hymnal, written in 1758. Perhaps you've wondered what is an ebenezer (i.e. "Here I raise my Ebenezer …") and—the more pressing question!—why in the world am I raising one over my head? Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing borrows an image from a mostly forgotten moment in 1 Samuel 7, wherein Samuel takes an otherwise ordinary boulder and erects a memorial of gratitude to God. Eben-ezer in Hebrew, the newly-named rock means "the stone of help." Israel has just made it through yet another tight squeeze in its collective life of faith, and pastor Samuel speaks for the whole lot of them by noting aloud: "Thus far the Lord has helped us." Indeed, he speaks for us all.

Likewise, Robinson's hymn teaches us to pray:

Here I raise my Ebenezer
Hither by thy help I come
And I hope by thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home

And so, on this second day of a new year, I invite each of you to take a moment and consider the "fathomless mystery" of your pilgrimage thus far. For many in the neighborhood, this has been a week of raising glasses in a forward-looking toast to a new year. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, depending on the vintage.

But instead of bubbly, I invite you to raise a rock. Call it "Ebenezer," call it "Ernest" for all I care, but just make certain you call out to the Lord. After all, we people of the book have learned that before we can look forward in anticipation, we must look backward in memory. Looking back, offer your thanks and praise for the inevitable fact that "thus far the Lord has helped you." And before you are finished, pray that by God's good pleasure (Luke 12:32), this Christ-journey of faith will take you, finally, all the way home.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here's my heart, O take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

A blessed New Year to you and yours.