The Lord Made This Day (Even if It's a Lousy Day)

Psalm 118 in the old version has this line: “This is the day which the Lord hath made: we will rejoice and be glad in it.” When it says “will,” it means to make an act of will to rejoice and be glad. In older English, the normal future tense used “shall” in the first person (I/we) to indicate future action; to say “we will” rather than “we shall” is to emphasize determination. (Confusingly, in second and third persons the usage was the opposite.)

So the Psalmist is saying, in effect, whatever day it is, God has made it. And by golly, whatever it is, we are going to rejoice and be glad in this day.

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I wrote a couple of months ago about starting my Camino in snow. That was a shock, if nothing as bad as the early February snow in Dallas that shut down airports and buses and trains. This snow was no danger, but it was cold and we weren’t expecting it. Why should we join the Psalmist in rejoicing in the day, when the day is lousy?

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The Camino teaches acceptance. The day has come and I must start walking, whether it is cold or hot, wet or dry, windy or still.

Wisdom is to begin with acceptance. Acceptance comes before critique or evaluation. Weather escapes our control, and it is a snapshot of how the whole thing is outside our control. Nature, society, the actions of people in society: all are in the first instance simply given to us, just there.

Existence is the principal action of the creator. God’s primary manifestation in the world is in the sheer existence of the world. He gives us the new day—to which wisdom replies, “we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

It is said that the first ethical task is to give thanks for our own existence. We may not like (for instance) our bodies (mine is too skinny). We may not like our political rulers. But before we do anything to try to improve things, we need first to give thanks that the things are there at all. After all, a person with cancer is first of all a person. And on the social level, bad government is still some sort of government, which is almost always better than no government at all.

Then things change. If we start by giving thanks even for the lousy days, we discover unexpected good things. Furthermore, in a surprising twist, it is thankful people who are able to make things better. But that’s another sermon for another day.

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P.S. After I wrote this, I found a letter in the London Review of Books about the difference between “will” and “shall”: that “I shall” is simple indicative, stating what is going to happen, while “I will” is a strong statement of what is my intent. The writer went on to tell an old joke. A professor saw one of his students floundering in the water. The student was crying out: “I will drown, I will drown!”—and the professor, believing in free will, did nothing, interpreting the student’s cry as his determination to drown. I guess that while punctuation saves lives, bad grammar can lose them?

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Out & About. God willing, I shall (!) preach at St. David of Wales in Denton, Texas, at 8 and 10:30 a.m. this Sunday, June 26.

My occasional reminder: I am available to visit parishes in the diocese of Dallas. I can offer talks on theological topics, teach classes, lead retreats, and so forth. These theological visits don’t have to be on Sundays, and they don’t have to be close to the city of Dallas. (One instance: Early on in my time here, I enjoyed a memorable evening at theology-on-tap in Texarkana.) 

Already it seems that many people are reading A Post-Covid Catechesis, my new and short book on basic Christian teaching important for us in this post-pandemic period. The book has five chapters with discussion questions at the end of each. A group could use the book as the basis of a five-session class on creation, fall, God’s involvement, and Jesus as true human and true friend. If you’d would like, we could schedule for me to join one of the sessions. 

To discuss a potential theological visit (which, of course, has no cost to a congregation beyond its diocesan assessment!), drop me a line: .

 

So Brilliant You Couldn't Focus

Two readers (from different parts of the country) wrote me after last week’s column about that old tree on the Camino, and each of them spoke of walking the Grand Canyon. My column had touched old memories with them, and they in turn touched one with me.

When our children were young we took long driving vacations, on one of which we stayed a couple of nights at a simple hotel on the southern rim of the Grand Canyon. This was 30 or 35 years ago, in those blessed pre-cell-phone days when taking a vacation meant taking a vacation, i.e., having in place of one’s ordinary work an emptiness, even a “vacuum” (same root as vacation). At this magnificent canyon, we were even more removed from our ordinary life.

Awesome doesn’t begin to describe it. You’ve seen pictures. Today’s Canyon is the result of the work of water eroding over not a time like that ancient tree’s 800 years but a huge multiple, more like 800 times 800 years and then another five or ten times that. You stand at the rim at a high altitude, amazed at what is before you and feeling a bit chill. Vertigo is a possibility, not to mention death from falling.

I learned that there are trails that go down from the rim to the river far below, and that the trails are about 15 miles long. That, by the way, would be a slightly long day on the Camino for most people. But in the Canyon, those 15 miles would be downward hatch-backs, requiring strong knees and taking the hiker into hot temperatures. At the bottom, at least back then, one could have reserved a bunk bed for the night. The next day, yes, you would walk back up, requiring the leg muscles that are opposite of those you used in the descent.

I learned all this but never (yet, anyway) have walked it. It is bound to be an overwhelming experience, and not only because of the physical challenge and what one can learn when challenged. It is simply that so much more comes into one’s eyes than one’s brain is accustomed to. 

And that, dear reader, you can experience even at the brim itself. I stood looking north and saw a view of colors and changing depths that I was unable to focus. It was brilliant and it was beyond my grasp, not just intellectually, but as a matter of vision. Here is the difference between pictures and reality. Pictures put the far side of the canyon into focus, but in reality it is too close for that. I could not focus on, I could not grasp with my eyes, that which loomed in front of them. It kept waving or glimmering, as if it weren’t real, as if it couldn’t be there—although I reckoned that C. S. Lewis would say it was more real than ordinary reality, or a sign that what I take as ordinary reality is rather tame and dim.

What does it mean that the world is created? It means that God is holding it in existence every moment. Sometimes one can almost see (even though we can never truly see) those existence-granting hands. This is one of the reasons it is important for us to get out: outside, yes, but also out of our usual routines, out of what is ordinary for us. We need to see these intimations of the brilliant reality of God ever just beyond our focus.

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Out & About. Yours truly is to be the preacher at St. David of Wales in Denton, Texas, on June 26.

Looking ahead. The next Good Books & Good Talk seminar is set for Sunday, September 18, at Incarnation in Dallas, on J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. And my lecture on the theology of walking (with Camino reflections) is set for Sunday, October 9.

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The Rev. Canon Victor Lee Austin. Ph.D., is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Friendship: The Heart of Being Human" and "A Post-Covid Catechesis.: