Brass Tacks

This morning I have been reading a longish article on the epistemology of Michael Polyani, a renowned 20th century scientist and philosopher. I enjoy philosophy a lot. I find it stimulating, and this article was no exception. But I confess I also had a motivation for reading other than intellectual and spiritual gain. I was avoiding something. In fairness, the thing I was avoiding wasn’t one of my responsibilities except in the sense that John Donne would understand what constitutes my responsibility:

No man is an island. Every man is a part of the continent, a piece of the main… Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind. Therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee. 

What I was avoiding was the latest update from a family who’s 5 year old son is dying of cancer. I was avoiding it because I find it hard to function for the rest of a day when I must face this kind of grief whether in person as the priest of a community or virtually through the vast network of acquaintances Facebook provides. When it comes to suffering children I don’t do detached very well. That’s probably a flaw in my pastoral skills but I’m sure it’s not the only one. Anyway, I finally faced my weakness and read what I did not want to read; contemplated what I did not want to think about. What I am left with is this truth that we who are Christians are expected to keep with us at all times. We live in a beautiful wreck of a world; a paradise with monsters in it. All the sweetness of life is mixed with bitterness. Nothing here lasts. This is the brass tacks, the most basic thing. We can escape into pleasure, or thought, or work, in order to forget but the wheels of time and entropy will grind on and we will be grist in the gears. It is only when we face this reality that we can become Christian. It isn’t until we realize that the universe, taken as its own frame of reference, is a meaningless, comfortless place, that hope in a Christian God becomes possible.

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