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Two Are One, Life And Death

(I guess I’m still pondering Le Guin, as one does, given I’m quoting The Left Hand of Darkness in that title there.)

Someone had written us a new hymn, I discovered when I was scrambling into the balcony with the older kids, running later than usual for the service. I don’t recall what the hymn-name of the tune was, it’s one of those old traditional song tunes that comes around on the guitar every so often, but I knew it as “There is a Ship”.

It was about the futility of thoughts and prayers, without effective action. Very Epistle of James stuff, really. Though also of course I think of one of the primary qualities of ma’at as being effective.

I went down to light a candle when we did joys and sorrows, thinking of the things in my heart. I balanced the joy of my father’s birthday today against the sorrow of the friend who was marking the anniversary of her father’s death, bookending. And I spoke of another thing, a strange and wonderful thing, that came out through sorrow.

You see, when I was four, I had a friend. We played together all the time, and I know this intellectually, even though my memory of the particulars is more hazy than not. My clearest memory is of greenness and a house tucked away in it and the colors are more vivid in my mind, I think, than they could ever have been in reality, unless it was some eerie and fey-touched summer light. And of the beige insides of the car when we drove away, the last time I saw her, because her parents were moving away, and I did not know what I would do, and I sobbed helplessly the way a child does who cannot understand the cruelties of the world.

I had a friend, and I lost her, and in response to the horrors of Parkland, someone went viral on twitter, who had the name of my lost friend. I spent days wondering, trying to work up the courage to write, and I wrote.

And I found her again.

The raw brilliance of this unimaginable brightness, this happiness that soothes the heart of that inner crying child, is set against unspeakable tragedy, and I do not entirely understand a world that comes in such contrasts. It’s a chiaroscuro cosmos, I suppose, but the starkness of this is something I find hard to sit with, the place where I can be happy I found my oldest friend again, and still heart-rended at the tragedies that made it possible that I would.

In another reflection, another day, I might write more about John’s sermon – I love his wonderful sermons, and this was no exception – I might try to elaborate the koan of the knock-knock joke with which he ended it, the great aching question of “Who’s there?”

I am mostly left, though, in contemplating the good and ill of the world, with his commentary on Setsubun, a Japanese festival of the preparation for spring, in which beans would be scattered through the house, and pitched out the door (perhaps with great force), to the cry of “Devils out! Fortune in!”

And he pulled out a cup, and scooped his fingers into it, and the beans arced into the sanctuary.

Devils out! Fortune in!
Devils out! Fortune in!

It’s a chiaroscuro world.

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