January 24, 2013

Day Counting

Listening as a citizen, I was glad on Monday to be able to watch the inauguration of our President to a second term. Dem or Rep, loathe him or love him, it really is remarkable in the history of the planet’s peoples: the unobstructed transfer or reinstallation of executive power. What a sea of faces on that Mall lawn, including at least four New Wilmington Presbyterians (of which I am aware).

Listening as a Christian, however, I was struck by a line in Mr. Obama’s speech:
America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands ...
Limitless? Granted, it sounds like what a youthful president would say to raise spirits in a melancholy season. But the sentiment reveals much about how we the people want to view ourselves: unending possibilities, money, time, votes, budget lines, debt ceilings, natural resources, public welfare ... you name it. Reacting to a previous generation’s tight hand on the wheel, now we’ve oversteered into a lust for freedom. But it is freedom immaturely defined: liberation from any and all constraint. How did we get to the point where reminding ourselves of our human limitations sounds ... unpatriotic?

It is a lie, our limitlessness. For me. For you. For the country. For Mr. Obama. Indeed, his now-famous last glance, that parting look back over the Mall to see the ocean of citizens: His face said it all. “This is the only time I will see this. I need to take one last gaze.”

There are limits. And contrary to the mythos of unlimited possibilities, there can be beauty in a boundary. I think of the psalmist’s sober prayer: “Lord, teach us to count our days, that we may gain a wise heart.” In the witness of Psalm 90, wisdom begins, not in the hubris of a boundless future, but in the recognition that (to borrow a phrase) our days our quite numbered. Perhaps true freedom begins with the recognition of our finitude, our limited time. Braced by the promises of a boundless God, we find the grace and courage to make the most of each precious day. Woe to the person, woe to the nation, that imagines it is the one special exception to life’s earthbound limits. For now, at least, only one among us has shed that limitation. We live and die in his risen name.

My best guess is that I myself have about 10,000 days left, more or less. That’s assuming God remains generous and that the Lipitor works. How about you?