Everyone knows the metaphor of ripples on a pond, of the multiple and ever-widening influences of a single event, but no one ever spares a thought for the poor bit of rock sinking slowly into the dark, wet abyss.
I think we’ve all been that individual at times, the consequences of our actions, good or bad, long outliving the memory of our names or of our personal destinies. Sometimes that’s a blessing in itself, especially when we get it wrong.
Lost in the mists of history – or sunken to the bottom of the pond if you will – is the name of the person responsible for there being only a day’s supply of oil for the Temple lamp; and no one ever thought to note the identity of the inn keeper who turned Mary and Joseph away in their hour of need. But without these underperforming characters we simply wouldn’t have the same Hanukkah or Christmas Nativity celebrations which we do today.
Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch Christian who hid Jewish compatriots from the Nazis in a secret room in her house, and who was later sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp when her “crime” was discovered. She survived the ordeal and years later I heard her give a talk in Amsterdam. She held up a small, framed piece of fabric which seemed to contain nothing more than a jumble of loose threads at its centre.
“This,” said Ms. ten Boom, “is how most of us view our lives: a bit of a colourful mess, with no rhyme or reason to it.”
She then turned the frame around to what was in fact the front of the fabric, revealing a stunning work of embroidery, an image of a bejeweled crown.
“And this,” she continued, “is how our lives look from an eternal perspective, in the eyes of the Divine. All the jumble of loose ends, the knots and random-looking threads have a purpose.”
Many of the world’s religions have festivals to mark the end of the year and, as with Hanukkah and Christmas, they draw on the powerful imagery of light returning to a dark world. At the heart of that message is the concept of grace: that no matter the extent of our failings, no matter how dark the hour becomes, no matter the mess we may have made of our day, or indeed our lives, there is always the potential for hope and restoration.
There is always the possibility that a power beyond our reckoning will take our feeble, fumbling footsteps and somehow, in the economy of the eternal, turn them into a dance.
I love my job with the airport chaplaincy. But I have bad days too, days (weeks? months?) when it seems I am distinctly lacking in the Midas touch, where all my best efforts, every decision I take and every impact I make on the initially tranquil pond seems to come out wrong. I’m sure you can identify.
But, gentle reader, remember this, even as you consider the impact your life is making: there is always grace. There is always a transformative force at work which is more powerful than even your deepest failure. Darkness cannot overcome the light.
Happy Hanukkah! Merry Christmas!