Beside You?

I am out running on the Katy trail—I sometimes think “running” should be written thus, in scare quotes; I don’t want you to think of it as serious running. The other runners always pass me: I never pass them. Anyway, it is early in the morning, the sun is not quite up, a few birds are singing, occasionally a plane flies overhead; it is rather quiet. Scarce are the runners on the trail.

I am alone and I hear someone coming up behind me. That’s not unusual: as I said, other runners often catch up to me and pass. But this person just stays there, slightly behind me. I turn to look at him or her.

There is no one there.

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It’s happened before—in Denver at Christmas, for instance. I think it’s an illusion of sound slightly muffled by my hooded sweatshirt; maybe it’s my own footfalls that I hear, maybe the rattle of my keys. Whatever it is, I first think that someone has come up behind me, and then that that someone is about to pass me but never does. Then I look, and I’m alone.

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  1. S. Eliot has these lines in “The Waste Land”: Who is the third who walks always beside you? / When I count, there are only you and I together / But when I look ahead up the white road / There is always another one walking beside you / Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded / I do not know whether a man or a woman / -But who is that on the other side of you?

In a note, Eliot remarks upon reading accounts of Antarctic explorers who kept over-counting how many there were in their party. We might also think of the two disciples in Luke 24: it’s after the resurrection, but they don’t know of the resurrection yet. They’re walking home, saddened by the tragic events in Jerusalem, when Jesus comes up beside them. They do not know it is Jesus.

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You might be walking with me, or with someone else. You’re going along, and suddenly the Other One is with you. Where did he come from? How is it that he’s beside you? I don’t know, but I do know that I’m glad he’s there.

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Out & About. Wed., Jan. 30, is the first session of a three-credit Nashotah House course that I’m teaching in Dallas. Any one interested in a seminary-level course in “Christian Theological Anthropology” (Christian teaching about the human being) is welcome to join. You have to sign up through Nashotah; I will be glad to provide a syllabus and a link with instructions. We’ll meet on Wednesdays from 6:30 to 9 p.m. through early May.

The weekend of Feb. 2 and 3 I will be preaching at All Souls’ Church in Oklahoma City. Their Eucharists are Saturday at 5:30, and Sunday at 8 and 10 a.m.

Sunday, Feb. 10, I’ll lead a discussion on Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead. If you haven’t read this, it is at once powerful and simple, full of frontier American faith and questions of morals and tradition and family and friends. The seminar, part of the Good Books & Good Talk series, meets at 6 p.m. at Incarnation in Dallas.

Taming the Green-Eyed Monster

“How’s the conference going for you?”

 “Actually very well. When I started coming to these, ten, fifteen years ago, I felt so out of place. Part of it was shyness, of course, and part was just being in the midst of a crowd of people giving papers and talking about books and ideas. But, honestly, that wasn’t the main thing.”

“Yes?”

 “The main thing was that I was measuring myself against these other people, and I felt insecure. They were all so smart, they knew tons more than I did about ethics and Christian thought, and I knew that I just didn’t measure up to them.”

 “So what’s different this time?”

 “I’m surrounded by lots of people giving papers and talking about ethics, lots of really smart people, and it’s exciting just to be here.”

“You now feel part of the group?”

“No—that is, yes, I know a lot of people now, but I also know, still, that many of them are super brilliant, and I’m not. What’s different is that I’m just enjoying who they are and the excellence of what they’re doing. I’ve stopped being anxious about me and am finding a lot of enjoyment with them.”

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There’s something about our human action that each of us has to learn. Part of “my” action is when I step back and allow you to act. Suppose you are playing viola in an orchestra. There are times for you to act, to play, to play well. There may be occasions where you stand a play a solo. But there are other times when you rest. “Rest” here is a technical musical term: your rest is when other instruments play without you. But because you are part of the orchestra, their action, which you allow by resting from action, also is part of your action.

Part of a person’s action is to step back and allow other persons to act. And enjoy it.

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This is what Saint Paul was telling the Corinthians about the “body,” the church. Each part of the body is important.

Beware the green-eyed monster, the monster of envy! He makes us think that the only important thing about ourselves is what we do ourselves, whereas, it’s just as important to allow and enjoy others’ doing what they do well.

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Out & About. I spoke about friendship at Holy-Trinity-by-the-Lake’s “theology on tap” program, Wed. Jan. 9. (I welcome invitations to speak to parishes!)

I will be teaching Christian ethics at the Stanton Center this spring: five, monthly, Saturday-afternoon classes at St. Matthew’s Cathedral. More info here: http://www.episcopalcathedral.org/stanton-center/ The first class is January 19.

“Good Books & Good Talk”: Sun., Feb. 10, I’ll lead a seminar discussion of Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel of 2004, Gilead. This is a faith-soaked novel of moral complexity set in the American Midwest, with themes of abolition, pacifism, father-son relations, love and friendship. Anyone who reads the book is welcome to the conversation at Incarnation, 3966 McKinney Ave., Dallas, from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

 

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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.: