If it Weren't Attached

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One might think that yours truly keeps trying to lose his hat. I left it in a taxi, but fortunately remembered it before the cab drove away; the black cap was tucked in a crack in the back seat. I dropped it in a Starbucks, but a helpful fellow patron (this is Dallas after all) noticed it and brought it to me.

In a conference hotel, at the end of the business meeting, I looked around me and realized I didn’t have it. I retraced my steps, checked at a couple of places — no hat. Then to the front desk. The clerk phoned a staff room, she said, in the basement. Immediate response: yes, the hat was there. She told me to stay at the desk and they’d bring it up immediately. 

From one point of view, I should get a new one. This one is five years old and showing its age. On the other hand, its predecessor was lost on a bus in New York City. I remember the evening: I was going to the hospital to see my wife. So I’m glad to have this old, comfortable hat, even though I keep forgetting it.

It’s like they say of the head, or more precisely what I should say of my own head: If it weren’t attached, I’d be forgetting it all the time. 

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God has attached himself to us. Sacramentally in baptism, by figure in his election of the people Israel, the Spirit of God has laid hold of us and won’t let us go. The Psalmist marvels at how he cannot escape God. “Where can I go then from your Spirit? where can I flee from your presence? If I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there your hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast.” (BCP Ps 139:6-9)

I might forget God, like I keep forgetting my hat. But his Spirit is attached to me, even more firmly than my own head. For better for worse, I cannot get away from him.

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Out & About. This Sunday, January 15, I’ll start a four-week class, “Strange but True Things about God.” This week’s topic is the deep strangeness of being creator. Every human being can deduce that God exists, but the very proof of his existence also tells us that we cannot know what God is. As Aquinas says, we can only know what God is not. I say, it’s strange. Join me at Church of the Incarnation, 3966 McKinney, Dallas, Sunday at 10:20. The class is in room 119 of the education building.

Privacy

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            I would not have seen him if he had not called out my name.

            I was in the Denver airport, checking out the area around my gate; he was on a moving sidewalk going the opposite direction. “Victor!” I heard, and hearing my name, I turned around. It was Father Matthew Olver, waving an arm at me as he went past. We met at the end of the sidewalk and enjoyed the surprise of the unexpected intersection of our respective journeys. But if he had called out anything else except my name, I would not have heard his voice, not there amidst the clamor of hundreds of voices of people moving in thousands of directions.

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            We tend to think that our sensations are things we share with other people but that our thoughts are interior and private. Actually it is the other way around. It is our sensations that belong to each of us individually and are private, in the sense of unshareable. Herbert McCabe gives this example. I cannot know what you taste when you drink a pint of Guinness. But when you say “a pint of Guinness” I know exactly what you mean.

            Thoughts, ideas, stories, convictions—these are the things we can share. And there’s the paradox: the most personal things about us are the most shareable things.

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            Who we really are comes out when we hear someone call our name. This happens in friendship. She was in the garden, tears on her face, bereft that not only had her dearest friend died, but his body had been removed and seemed lost. A man she took to be a gardener asked her why she was weeping; she replied that her friend’s body had been taken from the tomb, and that she knew not where it had been laid. He then said her name. At once she recognized him.

            This is of course the story of Mary Magdalene seeing the risen Jesus for the first time (John 20). It shows the remarkable power of our name. When the good shepherd says our name, everything in our heart is brought into the open, and tears are turned into joy.

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            In a world of crime and persons with evil intent, we all rightly guard our privacy: even true things about us can be put to bad use by those who would wish us harm. But in the kingdom of heaven, it seems to me, there is no privacy. There is individuality, each person a unique locus of glory.

            There is, we see, nothing private about God. Each Person of the Trinity just is his relationship to the other two. Everything interior is brought forth and offered in love.

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            Out & About. January 15, I will start a four-Sunday series, “Strange but True Things about God.” We’ll cover basic questions of creation, freedom, evil, and prayer. The classes are at 10:20 a.m. in Room 119 of the education building of Incarnation, 3966 McKinney.

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The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."