A funny thing happened on my way to blogging this post. This passage blew me away.
Here I was, thinking I was embarking on a new, potentially fruitful, but probably somewhat tedious (at least at times) discipline. I will open to the Hebrew Scriptures passage, thought I. (Loved Hebrew in seminary. It's so intuitive. Was not on such great terms with the Greek. Too much memorization... no room for invention.) I will blog the Hebrew Scriptures passages for the next year, thought I! (I like to make plans.)
Then I read these words:
A mortal, born of woman,
few of days and full of trouble,
comes up like a flower and withers,
flees like a shadow and does not last.
Do you fix your eyes on such a one? (Job 14:1-3a)
And my eyes filled with tears and I wept for my mother, and for my father, and for my best friend who thinks she's old (but she's not), and for all of us who are faced with the problem of inevitable human decay. I heard just a few minutes of Norah Ephron on "Talk of the Nation" yesterday (I find that a few minutes of Norah Ephron is plenty). She was talking about the indignity of it all, aging that is. She talked of how, if you have been a reader your whole life, and you are used to seeing something you want to read and just picking it up and reading, you experience the shock, the absolute shock of finding that your eyesight is failing you and there is an impediment to that completely natural act that you have always taken for granted. Now you have to find your glasses. There is an obstacle, an unfair, unforeseen obstacle betwee you and your reading. I empathized with her plight, as someone whose eyes have changed dramatically in the last year and a half, and who now finds she must wear bifocals in leading a worship service. I related to her complaint, as a lifelong reader (including, sometimes, under the covers with a flashlight), who now finds that she cannot read her good-as-candy-at-bedtime novel unless she has remembered to bring the damned glasses.
I like to depend on my body not decaying and growing old, but that is not the way of the life God has created for us creatures. We come up like flowers and fade. We flee like shadows, and we do not last. Why depend on humans, in all our frailty? Why get attached, since there is the absolute guarantee of it not lasting?
My mom was nearly 86 when she died on February 11, old and full of years, as the scriptures describe some of the patriarchs and matriarchs. But she died full of pain too. She died a hard death, from an unusual kind of lung cancer (probably secondary to breast cancer from 15 years earlier) that spread to her bones and closed off her windpipe. "As waters fail from a lake, and a river wastes away and dries up, so mortals lie down and do not rise again..." (Job 14:11-12a). My mom dried up... my last memories of her are of an unquenchable thirst combined with an inability to swallow. The last line of this passage is "They feel only the pain of their own bodies, and mourn only for themselves." Yes.
So... a bit unexpected, my sojourn into Job this morning, what with the weeping and all. Thank God for the psalm provided for my morning prayer, Psalm 147:1-11, which probably above all other scripture carried me through the breakdown and break-up of my 21 year marriage.
The Lord rebuilds Jerusalem
and gathers the exiles of Israel.
The Lord heals the brokenhearted,
and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:2-3)
The lesson of our fragility, our here-today-and-gone-tomorrowness, is a hard one. We are exiles from ourselves, the young and energetic selves we have come to depend upon and take for granted. And our cracked and bleeding hearts (and our teary and unfocused eyes) look to the one who rebuilds, and gathers, and heals and binds up. Thanks be to God.