A new ache here. Another pain there. I woke up ruefully reminded of aging. My aging. (Somewhere near 50, I gave up the idea of immortality; though, on occasion, I still fantasize about living forever!) Of all the changes, the most disconcerting has to do with my eyes. Despite my vanity trifocals (without the telltale lines), sometimes I squint to see clearly.
Concerning my sight, the advance of years crosses a symbolic line from physical matter to spiritual concern. It’s the vision thing! With fewer years before me than behind, I hunger to behold a life of fulfillment. Perhaps because I have lived long enough to have seen enough (too many!) dreams deferred or denied – in history, in the lives of others, in my life – I see less and, at times, believe less.
For my morning’s meditation, I turned to Ecclesiasticus, aka the Book of Ben Sira, a Jewish teacher in Jerusalem around 200 BCE. In a turbulent time, Ben Sira, witnessing the excesses of imperialistic nations, spoke of the pride that originates in “forsaking the Lord; the heart withdrawing from its Maker.”
It struck me that when one, whether nation or person, aspires to no greater good, whether God or a virtuous common ideal, and rather, to paraphrase the prayer, “follows the devices and desires of one’s own heart”, then pride erupts and corrupts.
Ben Sira described the judgment on human pride: “The overthrow of rulers and enthronement of the lowly; plucking up the roots of proud nations and planting the humble.” Immediately, I turned to the Magnificat, the song of Mary, when an angel announced that she would become Christokos, Christ-bearer: “My soul magnifies the Lord who scatters the proud in the imaginations of their hearts, bringing down the powerful from their thrones, lifting up the lowly.”
A remarkable vision, whether understood as divine intervention in human history or as symbolic expression of the triumph of human goodness. But where do I see it? Reading human history, its pages indelibly stained with innocent blood, and looking at the world today, the proud prosper, the humble suffer. Still. And, in my aging, more and more I strain to see the vision.
Yes, there have been moments when there was a glimmer of love and justice made real. The end of American slavery and the overthrow of apartheid swiftly come to mind. But I do not forget the countless who died. An old phrase, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”, suggests that the sacrifice of human life can bring great good. Still I grieve for those who never saw the realization of the vision for which they long prayed. So, for them, going forward, in my age and in my aging, with the world still fraught with the prospering of the proud and the suffering of the humble, I strain to see a vision.
Yet I have hope, energized by the lives of some remarkable young people (old enough to be my children and grandchildren) who daily in private conversation and public action embody love and justice. One confronts and challenges anti-Semitism whenever it arises. Another advocates for the liberation of Palestinian peoples. Another addresses imbalances and abuses of power in corporate boardrooms and church councils. Another labors to protect and sustain the environment. These and more, whatever their fields of endeavor, verily their callings, bring to life the vision already alit in their minds and hearts with a depth of passion, a breadth of wisdom, and a height of compassion. Because of them, I have hope. Because of them, I can see.