Endings and Beginnings

Let us give hope the final word – in your life and in mine. “Endings and Beginnings”

Well, the first news is that I have finally finished (after four years!) the entire first draft of my new book, The Fiction of Our Lives. I guess I should qualify that a bit, because the last chapter and Epilogue need now to go to my local editor who undoubtedly will make some suggestions about tweaking the drafts a bit. And then the horror waiting me this spring and summer to do all the “back stuff” and formatting that the publisher requires before the final work is submitted to them for publication. My editor at Wipf &Stock has indicated that if I can get all of that into them by September, the book might be fast-tracked to actually come out in time for the American Academy of Religion meeting in late November – to be held this year in San Antonio. So … pressure … pressure …

We are now deeply into the Lenten season, the forty days of penitence and reflection and life review that precedes our high holy day celebration of Easter. And if you care to look at my sermon page on this website, you will see that I urge listeners to take some time to scrutinize their lives and try to get their priorities straight – making things “right” in their lives as much as possible.

And so once again I resolve that WHEN THE BOOK IS DONE then my life will be less hectic, I can slow down and, as daddy said, “smell the roses” and all that – just live a more contemplative, peace-filled life, enjoying family and friends, loving others, and doing good. In short, to make things “right” in my life. Maybe I won’t write another book and assume that kind of heavy burden again, etc. (Except I probably will – I am a writer at my core.) But nevertheless, a resolve to live it all out better on the next go-round.

At my breakfast reading yesterday, I reflected on a piece by Carol Zaleski in The Christian Century (February 17, 2016, p. 37) titled “Doctor Johnson’s Failures.” It is a commentary on the life of Samuel Johnson, the 18th century Englishman who was a brilliant poet, journalist, satirist, and moralist of the Enlightenment period. Apparently Johnson was also an inveterate resolution-maker, always resolving to do better – to get up earlier, to drink less alcohol, read the Bible more, attend Church more regularly, etc. He promised his late wife on her coffin that he would be faithful to these resolutions, and every anniversary of her death, he would repent his failings to keep the resolutions and would renew his promises over her grave. Apparently Johnson was always trying hard to self-improve, and at the same time always failing.

But Zeleski points out that despite his failings, Johnson still wrote his resolutions in his journal with a deep note of hope undergirding them. She includes a lovely quote from one of his journal entries from which this except is drawn:

When I look back upon resolut[ions] of improvement and amendments, which have year after year been made and broken, either by negligence, forgetfulness, vicious idleness, casual interruption, or morbid infirmity, when I find that so much of my life has stolen unprofitably away … why do I yet try to resolve again? I try because Reformation is necessary and despair is criminal. I try in humble hope of the help of God. [emphasis added]
Zaleski ends her piece with the assumption that Johnson continued to fail to get up early, and so on, since our “will falters, habit encases us, perfect freedom eludes us. Yet after all our failed resolutions, hope has the final word.” And so this is true for us all.

But we begin again. And I begin whatever is next in the next two weeks, in fact two weeks from today as I write this. Many of you know that I am headed for South Africa to visit dear friends who live there, stopping in Amsterdam for four days to recover a bit from a six-hour jet lag. And one of my resolutions is to treat this trip – after all, it is Lent – as a time of retreat and reflection. Paraphrasing H. G. Wells – to not allow the clock and the calendar (or the next book deadline!) to blind me to the fact that each moment of life is a miracle and a mystery. With Johnson, I will try “in humble hope of the help of God.”

So let us indeed give hope the final word – in your life and in mine.