~ The Fullness of Time ~
“But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman.”
For nearly half my life, I’ve been returning to a particular novel. I reread it about every four years, and each time, it speaks to me in new ways. It’s a lovely book, beautifully written with the most poetic prose of any novel I know. It’s got little passing phrases that can break the heart with their wisdom and beauty. Its mood is sober but occasionally playful. It’s got no storyline to speak of, for the plot is not the point (a fact that lends itself to rereading). All the characters are painfully self-absorbed, every last one of them. How could such narcissists expect a happy ending? But it’s still my favorite novel because of the music of its language, its vivid word pictures, its pithy observations, and its patient meandering down the years of one family’s life. When I was home from Africa on furlough in 1997, I loaded up on fiction at a Barnes & Noble in Ohio, and I’ve been carrying this book around ever since. It’s one of the few personal belongings I lugged back to the US with me when I repatriated. Its pages are yellowed with age, the cover faded, and on the inside of the back cover, long years ago, I wrote out my monthly budget in spidery French and in Central African Francs. (Apparently, though I earned $300 per month, I lived quite well on $135!) Interestingly, as soon as I got back to the US, the Presbyterian Church (USA) invited me to take a job at Stony Point Conference Center, in the very spot where the book’s fictional family lived: the Hudson River Valley in Rockland County, New York. Once at a library sale in Kennebunkport, Maine, I saw a first edition of this book for $10, and I’ve been kicking myself for years that I didn’t buy it. (What book is it, you say?)
Isn’t it strange that the same old story can mean so many different things to the same old person down through the years? At each different phase of my life, I find truths there that I didn’t see before. How is it that we can revisit again and again the same painting, the same sculpture, the same piece of music performed by the selfsame musicians, the same old story, and each time we do, they manage to shed new light into our lives, revealing new beauties, opening up new possibilities? Surely it’s because each time we come to them, we bring a whole new set of cares and joys, fears and successes. Each time we come to them, we bring a different set of experiences and recent conversations echoing in our heads.
Time gives its slow gifts, doesn’t it? As the Advent and Christmas seasons open upon us, and as we revisit again the stories of waiting and of peace at the heart of our faith, you’ll bring a whole different self to those old stories. How might the Advent message of anticipation and hope speak to you anew in the place where you find yourself today? How might the Christmas message of joy ring a new echo in the life that you bring to it now? A part of me likes to believe that all of time happens at once, but that we can only experience it in linear increments. (If you’ve been to any of the four November memorial services at Bower Hill, you know I’m puzzling over this mystery of time.) How many times is Christ born into our lives and our world? Is the fullness of time again today?
Christ’s Peace to You,