Saturday, December 21, 2013

Living in the Present











"Yesterday and Today"
by Arun Andrews

In their 1965 album Help, the Beatles sang, “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they’re here to stay. Oh, I believe in yesterday…”

Our temptation to live in the “good ole’ days” is captured well in this song. It is not surprising, therefore, that the song has more cover versions than any song ever written—over 3000! For some of us, yesterday always seems to enamor. Somehow it seems the weather was better, the pressure lesser, the prices lower, the traffic slower, the currency stronger, the trees greener, the atmosphere cleaner, the youth kinder, the music softer, the world safer, and the trousers longer! “Oh, I believe in yesterday,” we hear ourselves sighing.

By contrast to the Beatles, country singer Don Williams sings, “Don’t think about tomorrow, it don’t matter anymore. We can turn the key and lock the world outside the door.” While the Beatles voice the temptation to live in our yesterdays, Don Williams voices the temptation to forget our tomorrows. Between or apart from the wishful romanticizing of our yesterdays and the hasty dismissals of our tomorrows, is there a life worth living?

In her novel, The Namesake, Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri tells the story of Gogol who is named after his father’s favorite author. But growing up in an Indian family in suburban America, the boy starts to hate the awkward name and itches to cast it off. In 1982 on his 14th birthday, his father presents him a specially ordered copy of The Short Stories of Nikolai Gogol. He tells him how he felt a special kinship with the author and that it had taken four months for the book to arrive from Britain, specially ordered for the occasion. To young Gogol the sentiments were not palpable. Time moves on. Gogol’s life moves on. His father dies unexpectedly. The story captures his efforts to reinvent his identity by embracing a new name, exploring meaning in relationships, an education, and a career. For all those years his father’s gift was set aside. But pain has a way of bringing back more than memory. The story ends in the year 2000 when Gogol is 32, divorced and pondering. It is then that he picks up the gift that his father gave him at age 14 and starts to read.

There are some things in life that are irreversible. Had Gogol wished then to start life all over again, there was no way of going back to when he was 14, or spending time with his father once again. Sadly for some of us, there are no replays in real life.

If this was an option the day after the crucifixion, the apostles would have certainly requested a replay. How much they would have desired to go back! Not only that they might be with Jesus, but that they would be right with him. Remember the time you vowed to live a certain way only to break the promise a few days later? Peter felt the same. For those of us who feel like we are the only ones who fail, the gospel writer has a word about the commonness of our humanness: All of the disciples deserted Jesus and fled from him. The problem with the Christ was not that he had asserted a demand, but that he had gently solicited their support. To think that a king would speak in such a fashion to his subjects is beyond imagination. Returning to his disciples in his hour of anguish, he repeatedly found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked.

How much he had likened himself to us in order to bear away sin. How much he had bent towards humanity, giving visibility to the psalmist’s ascription of “God our Savior who daily bears our burdens for us” (Psalm 68:19). He had given them so much. He had asked for so little. Yet, they had failed him. And still, the great hope of the Christian faith is that, even knowing every past denial and every coming failure of humanity, Jesus comes near today on our behalf.

With the Beatles, one can sing, “I believe in yesterday,” with Don Williams, one can sing, “Don’t think about tomorrow,” but it is only with Jesus the suffering servant, the risen Savior that one can sing, “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow.”

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