Let’s Save These for Later

Friday, November 22, 2013 — Week of Proper 28, Year One

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 102 (morning) // 107:1-32 (evening)

1 Maccabees 4:36-59

Revelation 22:6-13

Matthew 18:10-20

In today’s world of consumerism, materialism, and clutter, I’m reluctant to write a reflection that encourages us to hang onto things on the slim chance that they’ll come in handy someday. I’m actually fairly successful at battling the temptation to cling to things that might be useful or meaningful someday. However, our first reading this morning has a very moving description of people hanging onto something out of genuine faithfulness and a sense of possibility.

The first scene in our passage from First Maccabees is a desecrated sanctuary. The community’s foes have burned the gates and pilfered the holy vessels. The sanctuary has been abandoned for so long that bushes have grown through the temple courts. Worst of all, the altar has been profaned . . . although I’m not quite sure how to picture that. Perhaps it had been vandalized in some way.

Whatever the state of the altar, the priests in charge of cleansing the sanctuary decide that they should build a new one. Yet, they decide not to dispose of the stones themselves: “they tore down the altar, and stored the stones in a convenient place on the temple hill until a prophet should come to tell what to do with them.” The priests can’t see for themselves what the purpose of those stones will be, but they know that they shouldn’t let them go. Someday, a prophet will know how to use them.

One aspect of living within a long faith tradition is figuring out what to do with all the materials available to us. Like the profaned altar that the priests consider shameful, some parts of our tradition may seem reproachful to us at a given moment in history—particularly if they have been misused or abused. We may be called to dismantle these pieces of our faith and build something new.

But we never know when a prophet will come along and show us what to do with the debris: How to wrestle with it, how to shape it, how to transform it. So, we hang onto a lot, storing the pieces of our faith “in a convenient place.”

Similarly, there may be dimensions of our lives and personal histories that don’t make sense to us now, and that we are hanging onto until a prophet can help them speak. We don’t have to incorporate them into our lives right away, but we can save them for later.

I happen to have a tangible reminder of this concept right my own backyard. Our house was redeveloped by a professional stone mason. Before he sold us the house, he asked whether we wanted to keep an extra pile of stones to use in a project someday. Uncharacteristically, my husband and I decided to let the pile stay in a corner of the yard. If anyone has prophetic ideas for how to use them, please let us know!

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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