The infinite complexity of each human life is extraordinary.
It has been said that each person’s story is a novel or novels or perhaps countless encyclopedias. As a writer, I have come to see that a character, to become real on the page, must reveal many layers – experience, likes and dislikes, loves and hates, joys and sorrows.
Just so, it has been said that each person carries within himself his own universe, with many worlds orbiting one another, many planets, many suns and moons all in relationship, affecting one another with their movements.
With each choice I make I add to my own character in the finite span of time on earth, so that I am continually changing as I continually choose, each minute in each hour.
A bit mind-boggling and even numbing. Certainly humbling.
Habit of course encumbers or aids each choice, and we examine our habits from time to time, evaluating their goodness, necessity, and effect on our souls. Habit is often unseen, as though we live and work within a powerful frame, an architecture of habits, that isn’t always acknowledged. As Lent approaches, I shall consider my habits – which to celebrate and strengthen, and which to curb or deny.
We are the sum of our choices, it is said, just as are characters created in fiction. The author develops a “backstory” for each person, as detailed as possible, a history that may only appear in fragments on the page, but will fully appear in the choices that character makes.
Yesterday, tens of thousands made the choice to march for life in San Francisco. With each step they testified that even before our first breath we carry a universe in our genes, in our bodies, in our minds, and in our souls. With each step, these marchers testified that our country has made a habit of killing its unwanted children, and we must break that habitual horror, overturn the case our court chose to uphold, forty years ago. For such a decision, such a law, will destroy us. It already has destroyed several generations.
This morning in church we celebrated a new life, a child in the womb that will soon emerge into the bright air of our world and breathe oxygen into his lungs for the first time. Oddly, this is the requirement in our culture for protection by law: breathing.
So today, after the anniversary and birthday blessings, a young mother, heavy with child, stood and stepped to the center of the red-carpeted aisle where our priest blessed her and the child in her womb (a son). With these words of comfort and hope and strength, he affirmed the preciousness of the life within her body. He affirmed that we believe in a Creator God of love, not of death. He affirmed that the Church through this priest gave mother and child God’s blessing.
Today is Septuagesima, seven weeks before Easter. We call this three-week season “Pre-Lent,” a time to ease gently into true Lent when we examine our lives and consider our habits. St. Paul in the Epistle reading today exhorts us to “run the race,” a wonderful image of running through our life-time to the finish line. Christ in the Gospel reading gives us the parable of the laborers, how the first were paid the same as the last. Our preacher explained that the Gospel tells us how we must run this life-race: we do not covet others’ relationship with God, for our primary concern should be our own relationship with God. This is our focus. This is our story. In this narrative we shall live and breathe.
I am the central person in my story, in the miraculous universe of life given me, and this God loves me infinitely and intimately and individually, and I must add, uniquely. This is the prize I seek in my running-race. In a sense I have already reached the finish for, through the Church, I already have God with me. But in another sense, God helps me run the race, following the track through this fallen world, a world of pitfalls and temptations. He coaches me through sacrament, prayer, and Scripture, through the lens of the Church. As long as I am faithful, He leads me on the path of righteousness, beside still waters, restoring my soul. As long as I worship Him on Sundays as He commanded His people so long ago, and as long as I keep the other nine commandments (including thou shalt not kill and thou shalt not covet) I shall win the prize of Heaven, the next world. And when I stumble in the dark on the rocky path, He shall pick me up and set me a-right again, and guide me to the light. I shall confess and be absolved. I shall receive Him in the Eucharist and give thanks.
So, as I witnessed the blessing of the child in the womb, this universe of complexity, I smiled. Here was true hope for each of us, for our parish, for our community, for our nation, for the world. This child shall be born, shall be allowed to breathe. This child shall be our future, infinitely complex and glorious, just as our Creator intended.