An unexamined life?
We pulled this 12 inch beam out of the church; well, the contractors did. It was at least thirty feet above the floor. This is a load supporting beam. The scaffolding is not there simply to get people up to the beam; it is also supporting the roof!
On the surface it looks like all the other old timbers in the roof, now some 150 years old. But looking inside we see the problem. White ants.
The beam is a good analogy of the unexamined life. Six months before its discovery, the white ant people had done the routine inspection of the church, and all was well. In that short time, with all appearing healthy on the surface, the heart was eaten out of the beam.
There seems little logic to me in the way this beam was attacked. The ants are believed to have travelled in from the building next to ours. This means they went across the roof of our hall and offices- not deigning to touch anything- then into the church, and then bypassed all the closer beams to attack this one. I suppose there is an ant-intelligent reason for this, but it is a mystery to me. This apparently arbitrary behaviour mirrors the unpredictable occurrence of life's insults and misfortunes.
We say elsewhere on the site that "an examined life gains its richness by paying attention to the journey. For sure, we are still aiming to get somewhere, but life becomes more than achieving a goal. Life itself becomes good, and richer."
An unexamined life is the most foolhardy of journeys. We are all more susceptible to the pressures of life than we care to admit. We compromise, avoid, and recant with an ease which, in our better moments, leaves us deeply ashamed. But what of the moment when, with all our heart, we wish to do well. How devastating to find our principles and courage are eaten away, hollowed out and paper thin; only a deceptive veneer.
The daily saying of the Office, with its psalms and prayers, invites us to be examined by our tradition of faith. It exposes us to our best aspirations. It provides the thermal imaging of our souls which found the white ants in time to limit the damage, and restore the strength of the building.
The Office is not the only way to pray. But a successful life is an examined life. The horror of the unexamined life can be seen in one of the New Testament parables.
The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, "What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?" Then he said, "I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry." But God said to him, "You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?".... ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you-you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. (Luke 12)
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.