Two old men in blue short-sleeve-shirts and khaki shorts. One Married and one Non, at least according to rings on and not-on fingers.
Talk of people of places of things. Coffee sipped. More talk. Food served. More of people of places of things.
Then, words off the tongue of the Non; “I never understood that.”
Coffee sipped. Food consumed. Of people of places of things.
When I say something like “I never understood that,” that’s alright. I’m 27, and I’m learning, and I’m learning about a lot of things, and I’m figuring out there’s a lot I don’t know about tax codes about rockets about women about marketing about bike tires about glass about weather about washing machines.
When I say “I never understood that,” it doesn’t have a whole lot of weight, not unless it’s a particular thing that I might have invested blood-sweat-tears-hopes-dreams-soul into, and even then, it’s still pretty inconsequential.
Odds are it won’t make much difference to you what I do or don’t understand.
But when an old man says “I never understood that,” no matter what, hearing him say something like that that makes you think.
Infancy grows to youth to adulthood to middle age to old age to death, and at all points, Life is not ours to understand. Understanding was never the goal or prize.
And it makes me wonder.
Which is good. I don’t wonder enough.
Makes me wonder what in the world life could be about, if that whole notion of bettering yourself and finding peace with who you are is a pipe dream, if that notion of self-improvement and constant emotional iteration is the biggest lie ever sold.
Makes me wonder and pray for everyone, myself included, who repeat the notes in their lives because they believe it will save them, because those actions have become something which provides a solace and comfort.
The waking and drinking of coffee, the smoking and the drinking and the smiling and the typing and the watching and the loving and the hating and the playing of sports and music and the making of tractors and guns and the burning of candles.
The walking of dogs and the making of speeches and the baking of bread and pounding out twelve bars on the piano and sewing shirts and handing out parking tickets are all pinky fingers trying to plug holes in the cracked Hoover Dam that is your heart.
My heart. The cracked Hoover Dam that is my heart. In group, they teach you to use ‘I’ language, not ‘we’ language. Own the addiction, own the problem.
All the little bits and pieces and rhythms and rhymes of my life are pinky fingers trying to plug holes in my broken Hoover-Dam-Heart.
Practice does not make perfect. Liturgy does not cleanse and clarify.
Reading the Bible will not save me just as much as practicing embouchure will not make you Miles Davis. Grace is, most definitely, not a cumulative element. You do not acquire a satisfactory amount over the course of life. Grace is, most definitely, new every morning. Because we are, most definitely, new sinners every morning.
It makes me wonder about and pray for us who iterate as if iterating alone will save us, as if this time around, building the tower of Babel this time around will be different, as if Icarus simply had the feathers-to-wax ratio wrong, and this time we’re going to make a good and proper set of wings.
People iterate for all sorts of reasons. Not just to be perfect. Not just to create something new. But also to be comforted. To repeat. They want to know what’s going to happen next. It’s easy to know what happens next when you’re in a loop. Even if you hate the loop, at least you know what’s coming around the turn.
Thomas Edison iterates with different materials for the filament until he has the proper conductor for the lightbulb. People enter dance-a-thons and iterate movement over and over again until they’ve exhausted their bodies of inhibition and moves like waves (like waves) of the ocean.
The National played their song “Sorrow” over and over again for six hours at MoMA. Jay-Z rapped “Picasso Baby” for six hours at an art gallery in New York.
Why would you do that one thing for six hours?
What is the benefit of thanking God for your dinner every time you sit down to eat?
Why do you always say the same thing to the barista when you order coffee?
Crack addicts, sex fiends, Steve Jobs, Jay-Z, baristas, all iterate out of dependency and mystery and misery. You listen to the same music when you write, when you have sex, when you go over your parent’s house for Christmas.
Liturgy does not conform to the week’s events, which is why it seems like such a crock of shit at times. The reading for the second week of June has always been the reading for the second week of June, and it doesn’t care about current events or the status of your work or the condition of your marriage. 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles will always have long passages of chronologies and histories of kings that bore me to tears, but no matter how many notes I have, no one’s going to change the Bible for me. Word’s the Word.
We want whatever we read to have three easy to digest points which we can take with us and hold in our pockets like spare change.
I. I want something digestible. I speak of wrestling, but in my sinful state, I want three easy pieces that I can wield like stones plucked from the riverbed.
Liturgy does not save, which is why I hate it.
But there’s also something to say for sackcloth and ashes, to grieve in a particular way, knowing that it’s the way someone grieved thousands of years ago, to do liturgy and know it’s the same collection of words spoken by someone hundreds of years ago, and though neither sackcloth nor ashes nor tears nor liturgy will ensure salvation, it sings the song of something deeper.
It will not bow to the petty three-point-self-help-spoon-feeder.
Lord, you will not let me bend liturgy to that which I want. You won’t let me say what I want the day’s words to say. You won’t let me get away with that bullshit, and you won’t let the words say things that pacify.
Grace and its short-term memory. It won’t remember yesterday, because it echoes throughout past present and future every single time. It has no need to remember yesterday or to worry about tomorrow.
Liturgy’s aim, perhaps, is to imitate on Earth and point to the constant-ness and straight-headed-ness of scripture. Of Christ.
Second-star to the right, and also with you.
Pray for us sinners, Christ. Pray for us and comfort us in our lostness.
Grace and grief, sin and saving, new every morning.