Saturday, July 29, 2017

Perseverance Furthers

Faith and Belief: Perseverance Furthers
Thursday evening, for the fifth consecutive year, it was my privilege to join my fellow musicians in On The Bus to provide the musical support for Senator Patrick Leahy’s Annual Ice Cream Social. We were on the eleventh-floor rooftop of a building on Ninth Street NW with a view of the Capitol Dome in the not too far distance. Only Vermont based products are served: Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream and Top Hat beer! We played for about an hour when the Senator arrived and indicated he was ready to address the crowd of staff, supporters, family and friends.

The very first thing he said was that he had just come from a meeting with his long-time friend and colleague Senator John McCain as they were anticipating a late-night vote on yet another health-care proposal. They reminisced, said the Senator, about the days when it was common in the US Senate for senators to reach across the aisle to get things done on behalf of the American People. He recalled times when the very Conservative Senator Goldwater and the very liberal Senator Humphrey would sit down “and get things done.” He lamented it had been some time since this was business as usual, but that he still had faith that it can happen again.

The next morning on NPR, the WAMU based talk-show 1A, Joshua Johnson was hosting a conversation about CTE - chronic traumatic encephalopathy – resulting from repeated head trauma and concussions in full-contact sports. Dr. Bennet Omalu, among the first to diagnose this disease that has led to cognitive and degenerative symptoms and even suicide among retired NFL football players, was on the line. He made the comment that “Science and Faith both seek the truth. Science seeks facts, faith seeks meaning out of facts…. Both Science and Faith try to make “visible” that which heretofore remains or seems ‘unseen.’”

I used to consult the ancient Chinese wisdom text, the I Ching. It’s an ancient practice of using yarrow stalks or coins to build a series of solid and broken lines to form a hexagram – six lines one atop the other – a sort of pictogram. Once you have your hexagram you are ready to read the “judgment” or the “advice.” Not infrequently the answer would come back, “Perseverance furthers!”

That is certainly true in the ongoing saga of Jacob who, in the 29th chapter of Genesis is on the run to escape the wrath of his brother Esau whom he swindled out of his birthright, and tricked his father Isaac into giving him the blessing that rightfully belonged to the older son. His mother Rebekah had suggested that while he was on the lam he might visit some kinfolk to obtain a wife. Visiting his great-uncle Laban, the Trickster is Tricked! He falls in love with Laban’s younger daughter Rachel. He is told that she will be his if he agrees to work seven years for her father. Deal! The evening of the wedding seven years later, the veiled bride is presented to Jacob, only to discover in the light of dawn the next morning it is Rachel’s older sister, Leah!

Oh, says Laban, I forgot to mention our custom that the older daughter must be married before the younger may be given to marriage. Another seven years, and Rachel will be yours. Jacob agrees. He is no hurry to get back home to face Esau, and after fourteen years labor he has two wives, Leah and Rachel. Over time he acquires two more wives, Zipah (Leah’s servant) and Hilpah (Rachel’s servant), and among the four wives he fathers thirteen sons. Overlooking what such a story might reveal about the Biblical concept of marriage, it appears that perseverance does further. We are meant to recall that the Lord God of Abraham has promised to be with Jacob and that it is his faith and belief that this is true that has given him the patience and perseverance to work fourteen years to finally marry the girl he loves. One might say it took Jacob fourteen years to uncover the Pearl of Great Price Jesus speaks of in Matthew 13. Or, that just a mustard seed’s worth of faith sustained him in his quest to marry.

In reading of Dr. Bennet Omalu’s work to find out what drove so many NFL players to display symptoms as broad as difficulty thinking, depression, impulsive behavior, short-term memory loss, difficulty planning, emotional instability, substance abuse and suicidal behavior, he required equal measures of faith and belief, not to mention perseverance and patience, to come up with his findings which have recently been substantiated in a recent study of 111 brains of former NFL players.  

In attempting to describe the universe we see, Einstein, Edwin Hubble and others have come to believe that fully 95% of the known universe remains unseen as some combination of Dark Matter and Dark Energy. Their faith in things like relativity, quantum mechanics, mathematics and measurements of gravitational forces lead them to new discoveries about where we are and where we come from, but leave us far from reconciling so many inconsistencies in the various “explanations” their research suggests.

Yet, whether we ponder the sayings of Jesus, the life of Jacob, or Relativity and Dark Energy, perseverance furthers our understanding of who we are and why we are here. Whether you are a US Senator or a dedicated neuropathologist, perseverance furthers your attempts to make life better for more people than just yourself.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” wrote the author of a letter we call Hebrews in the New Testament. Senators Leahy and McCain, Dr. Omalu, Einstein, Hubble, Jacob and Jesus have all dedicated their lives to maintain a sense of hope in a world that often provides little evidence that such hope is justified. What the life of faith believes is that the falseness of this world is bounded by an even greater truth – a truth that ultimately depends upon the explorations of faith and science together.

Later in chapter 17 Jesus chides the disciples for having so little faith. And yet, he says, “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.”

As Edith Ann used to say, “And that’s the truth!” 

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