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    Wednesday, April 24, 2024

    Psalm 119: 57

    57 You only are my portion, O Lord; I have promised to keep your words.

     

    In his preface to the 1938 edition of “Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing,” Soren Kierkegaard told a parable. As with all real parables, one must simply exist in the story. Attempting to explain it will subtract from its meaning. There, inside the story, one can ponder countless questions. It’s worth retelling:

    When a woman makes an altar cloth, so far as she is able, she makes every flower as lovely as the graceful flowers of the field, as far as she is able, every star as sparkling as the glistening stars of the night. She withholds nothing but uses the most precious things she possesses. She sells off every other claim upon her life that she may purchase the most uninterrupted and favorable time of the day and night for her one and only, for her beloved work. But when the cloth is finished and put to its sacred use; then she is deeply distressed if someone should make the mistake of looking at her art, instead of at the meaning of the cloth; or make the mistake of looking at a defect, instead of at the meaning of the cloth. For she could not work the sacred meaning into the cloth itself, nor could she sew it on the cloth as though it were one more ornament. This meaning really lies in the beholder and in the beholder’s understanding, if he, in the endless distance of the separation, above himself and above his own self, has completely forgotten the needlewoman and what was hers to do. It was allowable, it was proper, it was duty, it was a precious duty, it was the highest happiness of all for the needlewoman to do everything in order to accomplish what it was for her to do; but it was a trespass against God, an insulting misunderstanding of the poor needlewoman, when someone looked wrongly and saw what was only there, not to attract attention to itself, but rather so that its omission would not distract by drawing attention to itself.

    [Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing, (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1938), pp. 27-28]

    The rule of Benedict, which governs many monastic institutions, speaks of treating every work implement – hoes, axes, pen and paper, wagons, pots and pans – as if they were the finest implements on an altar where we worshiped. The rule sought to instill in the monks the attitude that every single task should worship God and was, indeed, the same as every form of worship we ever conducted in the finest sanctuary. One of the great classics in the history of Christian literature, “Practicing the Presence of God,” came from the mouth of Brother Lawrence, a humble monk washing pots and pans in a monastery’s midnight kitchen as he chatted with a weary traveler. He told the traveler he had discovered God there among his pots and pans.

    Kierkegaard saw clearly how doublemindedness relentlessly pulled even the best among us away from God. We spent our hours, days, and lives in constant chaos, running from one corner to the next, seeking solutions, dreaming dreams, creating visions. Our lives became a mélange of misery, torn to pieces by a million concerns. In the chaos, thinking we were serving our God, we lost sight every day of the only thing that mattered. Too little time to pray. Too busy to rest. Too committed to submit to the heavenly prescribed rhythms of life. His presence faded to mirage-like meaninglessness as we raced off in a hurry to carry out our perceived duties, to achieve something. For Him, we thought. And when we were finished, pride filled our souls.

    “Sit at my right hand.” This was God’s prayer. (Psalm 110: 1)

    In everything, the One thing. It becomes our duty to see the meaning of the One thing in everything. All meaning rises from the One thing.

    Largeness cannot help itself. It stands in opposition to One thing. The modern world pursues largeness with almost measureless intensity. We value the idea of muchness. This madness extends beyond culture, beyond nation, beyond religion and ideology. The large nations want to become larger. Larger in power. Greater in influence. They seek control in every moment, large and small. I have overheard religious leaders, pondering a highly successful congregation. If only we had three or four more churches like that, they said, then our problems would be solved. We would be solvent, influential, and we could do some serious ministry. Many things. Solvency. Influence. Important ministry. Visible success! Our lives became like the woman who was always buying shoes. Never enough shoes. Her closets overflowed with unworn shoes.

    Have we, in our pursuit of many things, lost sight of the One thing?

     

    Hymn of the day: Seek Ye First. Online at Rossford UMC - Media.

     

    Rev. Lawrence Keeler