Monday, January 19, 2009

Memorabilia and Happiness

Harold has drawn our attention in the post below ("Time Stands Still") to a profoundly important fact of life.

Everyone seeks happiness.

We do it in wholesome as well as in perverse ways (marriage as well as adultery; a good meal, but also overindulgence). A fundamental difficulty in this pursuit, however, is that the things in which we try to anchor our happiness are continuously slipping away in the tide of time. And, as the saying goes, time waits for no man, neither for the rich and powerful nor for the poor and obscure. With every passing moment, it carries off our possessions and treasures. And the heart aches to see them go. A pair of socks that have served you well are becoming thread bear in the toe and heel. An affectionate cat who has always been happy to sit in your lap on cold evenings is approaching the end of her days. Your little children are growing up. Your youth is slipping away. You can't run the way you once did, and you're forgetting things. And your church? Your community? Your country? How the gold has become dim. Jesus warns us, "Store up not your treasures on earth where moth and rust corrupt and where thieves break in and steal." Time is the universal thief.

Life is carpeted and canopied and hedged all around with innocent enjoyments, but they are like the manna in the desert that Israel received from the Lord. They can only be enjoyed for the moment, not stored up and preserved for the future. Though each day has its own trouble, Jesus tells us in his great sermon, it also has its own delights that are for that day and for no other.

We reach out our hands to clutch these blessings and secure them permanently, but they are ever--and by the very nature of things--elusive. This is why we collect things, no? People are hoarding Obama memorabilia (magazine covers are my preference) because even as they are enjoying the historical moment, they know at the same time it is slipping away and will soon be only a memory. Whether it's a wedding, an athletic victory, or friendships from our schooldays, we want somehow to preserve the moment in time and carry it into the future as best we can. So it is no surprise that what people carry out of their burning houses, besides their children and pets, is their photographs.

Victory Plate - "We own a piece of history."

"Bob Dylan's Dream" (from Freewheelin', 1963; listen here) captures the cry of that aching heart that sees it's happiness locked irretrievably in the past.

I wish, I wish, I wish in vain,
That we could sit simply in that room again.
Ten thousand dollars at the drop of a hat,
I'd give it all gladly if our lives could be like that.

Heraclitus observed that you cannot step in the same river twice. Even as you step, the river is gone, racing downstream, and has become a different river with different water. But we can no more hold back the river and enjoy the sweet waters of the moment than King Canute could hold back the ocean tide.

So within every pleasure is the pain of knowing that it is slipping away. But there is a way of milking the moment for all that it was intended to give, and simply enjoying it for what it is. Enjoy life's pleasures, as Israel did the manna, as gifts from God to be enjoyed for as long as they are given, and enjoy them thankfully. That is, the genuine enjoyment of these goods (that come into being and pass away) entails enjoying above all the God who gave them, the God who is in himself perfectly delightful, who never changes, and who promises his people that he will never leave them nor forsake them. When we enjoy the good things of life as tokens of his goodness and reflections of his glory, and thus enjoy them worshipfully, we can enjoy God's world the way he gives it to be enjoyed, not as something always slipping tragically into the past, but as something that anticipates the infinitely greater blessedness of the future.

Harold adds:

Nicely explicated, Reverend Doctor.

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