Jeremiah 31:7-14 or Sirach 24:1-12 • Psalm 147:12-20 or Wisdom of Solomon 10:15-21 • Ephesians 1:3-14 • John 1:(1-9), 10-18
In beginning today's readings, one must be willing to go back – way back, before the Big Bang. There, the Word is already present (John 1:1), and already in relationship with the one who would create all things. In this time, before the foundation of the cosmos (Ephesians 1:4), we were chosen to receive an inheritance. If you find yourself needing a second cup of coffee to take this in, you're not the only one.
What, exactly, have we inherited? Well – spoiler alert – not money. It is an intangible inheritance, of "grace upon grace" (John 1:16). Moreover, it has destined us – from before the beginning of time, no less – to be holy and blameless (Ephesians 1:4). What a peculiar pairing of words to describe the human condition! Recipients of grace upon grace; we are holy and blameless. Somehow, it seems, this inheritance has gone missing. Or has it?
Thinking broadly, we humans, along with all creatures, find ourselves inheriting a universe which has formed over five billion years and is still evolving. We share many patterns in common with all mammals. Driven by instincts deep within us, most of our daily activity occurs without thought. Even our thinking is often occurring in response to, or in support of, our instincts. Inborn tendencies, developed over millions of years of mammalian evolutionary history, are present in families and other groups, including work environments, congregations, and anywhere else where humans have organized to cooperate. Families, for example, quite naturally operate to protect their young, without ever naming an intention to do so. Watching groups of tourists here in our nation's capital, I often see this as family groups board the subway system. Someone in the family is checking to make sure they are all on board. Someone is watching to see that the most vulnerable have a seat, or are held, or whatever is needed. Someone is already alert and watching for the stop where they will need to get off the train. All of this is happening with very little conscious thought – the cooperation of the group is assumed by all.
There are two ways where the cooperation of the group can get us into trouble. One is the reduced ability to be a self; in the tourist example, for instance, if one person wants to see a different museum. The other is the inability to cooperate as a species. When many groups of people all want the same end – for example, all getting off at the same subway stop – difficulties develop. On a crowded train, people get uneasy. Tempers flare. Suddenly, children are getting yelled at, hustled into place as the all-important stop is coming. Some families – those with more experience, maybe, on how the system operate – are different. Understanding the relatively small inconvenience of going an extra stop and turning around, they have more room in their minds to be gracious. Other families, perhaps inexperienced with the subway but generally aware of the dangers of a crowded train of anxious folks, can also hold back from rushing to the door. They use emotional reasoning to manage the problem.
The ability to use emotional reason involves neither denying nor intellectualizing our emotions, but rather on attending to what is motivating them. Thoughtful reflection occurs on two levels: the context of the moment (I'm getting anxious on this crowded train but it is a feeling that will pass) and the context of what is makes sense (We can't all get off, but it will be better for our group to stay together on the train for now). The daily opportunity to develop the capacity for emotional reason has been given to us humans, in grace upon grace. Seeing the opportunity as our grace-filled blessing rather than our curse is essential; along the way, we are already holy and blameless.
Morning: Where will I have a chance to practice emotional reason today?
Evening: When was I able to reflect on my instinctive emotions? When was I able to see more options?