When the World Is Too Much with Us

By Bob Howard In Essays

This one's for B, who wrote recently, "I miss your newsletter like crazy, especially now."

Thank you, B.  During the past fifteen years of publication I've not deluded myself with thoughts of influence, for good or ill, of these jottings into the ether of the internet.  They seem to me to be more expression than communication.  A tracking program (no names or IPO's) reports that, though many may visit my website, few stay more than ten seconds. To be told, therefore, that I have been missed, and to be told that with some urgency, comes as a surprise, a most flattering and encouraging surprise.

It's the "especially now" I want to address.  The occasion for that verbal sigh has personal and global elements.  The worry over a grandson, comatose in the hospital with an infection he is defeating inch by inch, is overwhelming, even for someone old enough to have seen it all and previously shed a river of tears.  I can echo that experience in this moment.  My family and my pastoral connections have filled my prayers with intercessions for: my cousin's daughter who just received the diagnosis we all fear; a broken femur in Arizona; lung surgery recovery neighbor across the street; a basketball buddy whose heart ailment has defied the diagnoses or the treatments of cardiologists; one of my "little" junior highs, now in his 60's, fighting pancreatic cancer; and a classmate (who doesn't regret my prayers, but who will not assign them or anyone's much effectiveness) with a circulatory ailment that affects one extremity after the other.

Personal ravages by circumstance and illness arrive like the tides; and now seem like flood season. Add to these heartfelt sighs the craziness and chaos in D. C. and, B, no need to explain the "especially now."

The world will never stop delivering bad news to our doorstep.  But we can delay answering.  We can, for a moment or two in the midst of our sighing, put our minds on other things.  Temporary diversions are needed to allay the stress and prevent the breakdown.

So, B, try baseball.

1969 Mets

 A mutual friend of ours did just that with a wonderful vengeance.  I daresay he spent more time in the ballpark than he did in the pulpit... and he preached for nigh on to forty years.  I can still hear him hoping in the ninth inning with the winning run on third base, with two outs and a feeble hitter for our home team at bat, "Wild pitch, throw a wild pitch!"  He ached for the Mets almost as much as he ached for the well-being of the church he pastored; and the former aching enabled him to ache the more for the latter.  

I recommended this diversionary tactic in a dinner conversation recently.  One of the attendees would have laughed me out of the room for so trivial a pursuit in the face of the troubles we see.  I responded with an alternative to baseball I knew she would find worthy.  "Okay, then, go to a tag sale."

Or pet the dog.  Say, a middle-sized black furry one (let's name him Pepper) with a sloppy, lumbering way of showing affection, and a penchant for cornering skunks.

Pepper in Vermont with friends

 I have a small, fat bichon well into her fourteenth year but still manifesting a voracious appetite for everything, especially whatever is on my plate.  She is always a source of comfort to me.  A fellow in the locker room overheard me pontificating and felt obliged to announce that he was an atheist.  I asked if he was sure he wanted to go there.  Whereupon he admitted he might believe in God if the certified theologian (think Thomas Aquinas) would make room for dogs in heaven.  I said, "Amen!"

Diversion.  Wonderful self-forgetfulness.  It is as important to our mental and spiritual health as any discipline of holiness preachers propose.  So go to a movie and be absorbed by "La La Land."  Do a crossword puzzle.  Take a walk around the block.  Tend the petunias.  Bake a peach pie.  Play bridge.  Whatever, lose yourself for a few blessed minutes before returning to the world which is too much with us.

Or lift up your eyes to the hills.  

Looking east from the cabin


And, B, sing my mother's favorite hymn, that line which sustained her as she sat under the awning on the back lawn enduring her congestive heart failure, "that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet."



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