Tuesday it’s pazckis (aka, punchkies) and parties. Dancing, jazz and samba. Wake up Wednesday morning groggy and stuffed; it’s Ash Wednesday. Three tiny meals, no meat, smudged dirt on our heads; it’s Lent. Seven weeks of rigor to get ready for Easter, the highpoint of the Christian year: the day of our Creator’s faithfulness, the day of The Promise.
There are a lot of contradictions in a Christian life. Sorrow lies next to Joy. Misery walks with hope. Failure jostles success. It’s hard to keep one’s balance. Critics call Christianity wildly, even naively, optimistic in one breath and an endless source of weakness and guilt in the next.
The gospel this week tells of Jesus exhibiting marks of divinity in the presence of his disciples and conversing with long-dead Moses and Elijah, pivotal characters in the march of Jewish history. Yet, this amazing event is preceded and followed by Jesus confronting those same disciples with predictions of his approaching arrest and execution. There’s a dissonance in all this that is both distressing and profoundly true.
In the 50s and 60s Thelonious Monk, a great jazz pianist, would play two adjacent keys at once bringing out a sound hidden between them that was both strange and right. It’s often occurred to me that this is what we try to do in Christianity when we place joy and suffering adjacent to one another. In the Holy Spirit’s evolving act of guiding creation to fullness, they’re the realities that we experience as happiness and sorrow, ecstasy and misery but they also contain something beyond each of them. There’s something so good there that, as St. Paul wrote, it’s beyond our ability to imagine.
Every day of our lives we bounce back and forth between the prediction of suffering and the preview of joy, the pain of failure and the excitement of success. We live the same reality that Jesus lived. But for those with ears to hear, there’s a note between those keys that is beautiful, a note that haunts us, a note that, as St. Paul wrote to Christians in Corinth, the eye hasn’t seen and our imaginations haven’t touched. That’s the world for which we live.
We may have only two keys to play but between them the music of God’s future sings to us.