Sunday, January 14, 2018


As I sped down Eastbound I-80, into the all-too-typical pockets of semi-whiteout due to lake-effect snow, I thought of all the movement and location that had filled the time since I had sped the other direction on the Westbound lanes.

Ten (10) airplane flights [three of them unplanned], two tow trucks, one rental car, only four taxis (moral victory!), too many subways, light-rails, and buses to count. (My favorite bus adventure being when I got on the wrong bus on Hebron, encouraged by the woman who assured me it was going to Yerushalem [which it did, but it took its sweet time getting there] with a dying phone, at dusk. And you're on a bus that may or may not be going to Jerusalem on a highway which your tour guide had helpfully informed you a man had been shot on the shoulder of last week, you are maybe more than a little anxious about the route of said bus, and the setting sun and dead phone do not help to relieve that anxiety.])

There were several moments (specifically between tow trucks one and two) when it seemed as though I would never make it back to those Eastbound lanes of I-80.

But, here I am, winding my way back. The familiar fields lining the freeway shifting into focus, as my new eyes learn to see them again.

No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak. If he does, its fullness pulls away, the new from the old, and the tear gets worse. (Mk 2:21)

As I get settled into my sweet little apartment, I feel a bit like that new, unshrunken cloth. What I love about these series of images in Mark's Gospel is that they contain both our human instinct to fall back into the old molds, and also the undeniable reality of grace which severs us from the past. As an unshrunken cloth, I have often found myself tempted to cling to an old, comfortable cloak. Old clothes are broken in, they're familiar, they're easy to slip on without thinking twice about it. New clothes hang strangely on our frame, they itch slightly, reminding us of their presence.
I also have a terrible habit of putting back on the same clothes after a shower, which somewhat defeats the purpose of a shower. But if you've gone through all the trouble of finding an outfit, it's too much effort to find another one.

A psychological view of a human being can be depressing, because it mostly images a person in a series of patterns. Our identities are composed of various factors, our habits are simply our outputs of he various inputs of our environments, our parents, our pasts. Sometimes, it seems like we're stuck sewing ourselves back into the same old cloaks, slipping back into the same outfit. Change, which used to be the order of our childhood lives, is startlingly difficult to choose over complacency.

Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins are ruined. Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins. (Mk 2:22)

As I read this, sitting on my chaise in the blissful silence of a peaceful, snowy January dawn, I remember that this gospel passage is in the lectionary, serendipitously, as each new calendar year arrives. A year ago, I remember reading this on the big, billowing bed of my grandmother's guest bedroom last year, and how very new I felt then. Today, sipping chocolate mint tea on the chaise, I barely recognize the young woman just one year my junior, as she has been ground underfoot into a fresh new vintage.

I do not want to pour this sweet new wine, fermented by all the travel, the love, the heartbreak, pain and beauty of a year of living to be poured back into old skins. I do not want her contained by the suffocating limits of tired habits. As I read the passage, I see not just a warning, but a promise. The glorious inevitability of grace permeates these images Christ offers: even though we are so foolish as to try to push ourselves back into old boxes, fall back into old habits, the transformation of grace makes this impossible. The wine will burst the skins; the brittle old cloth will rip.

In that case, there is balm in Gilead. Rippling off the pages of my fat little lectionary, in waves of consolation, comes the promise that grace can remold us, transform us, offer our plagued and patterned psyches new habits of being.

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