Marvin Repinski: Understanding the mystery of ourselves

Published 6:30 am Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

A teacher and leader of many causes while working for many years at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City, has been an influence to my thinking.  Many of his writings are still available.  Professor Reinhold Niebuhr’s reflections may be distilled into one quotation:

“The understanding of ourselves is even more subject to seeing through a glass darkly than the understanding of the world about us … We are a mystery to ourselves in our weakness and our greatness.”

We could apply this to our present season of politics.  That is something I assume most of us may be doing!

Email newsletter signup

Think, please, in terms of relating to several areas of the world we live in.  Relating to persons, relating to the bird world, and maybe a bit of relating to the Divine or as some persons term, their “Higher Power.”

ONE: A story may point up the mixture of split loyalties.

A guy was sitting quietly reading his paper when his wife walked up behind him and whacked him on the head with a newspaper.

“What was that for?” he asked.

“That was for the piece of paper in your pants pocket with the name Mary Lou written on it,” she replied.

“Two weeks ago when I went to the races, Mary Lou was the name of one of the horses I bet on,” he explained.

“Oh honey, I’m sorry,” she said.  “I should have known there was a good explanation.”

Three days later he was watching a ballgame on TV when she walked up and hit him in the head again, this time with the cast iron skillet, which knocked him out cold.

When he came to, he asked, “What in God’s name was that for?”

She replied “Your horse called.”

TWO:  The Hormel Nature Center is a many-sided gift to our community.  Visitors are always welcome.  (Wear a mask and leave a little distance when walking the trails!).  The abundance of wildlife and birds is a delight to those connecting with nature.  Some of us feed the birds at home.  Their coming to a feeder is lovely.  It is a reminder that we are part of a large beautiful world.  A neighbor might say, “I refuse to feed the birds.  It only attracts the cats and they get warm breakfasts.  That offends me.”  True.  Yet many of us end up with both cats and birds, and also squirrels.

Facts about bird life are found in history.  Like the story from London.  Before all the electronic gear that populates the globe, how was an important message received?  Guess.  It was a carrier pigeon that first brought the news of the sinking of the Titanic.

The world of “all creatures great and small” are the gifts that lift us out of the doldrums.

THREE: Relating to the Divine, which is for so many persons I know, focused on a mysterious, more seemingly from another world, Jesus Christ.  At least we can agree that His life, recorded in the New Testament of the Bible, reveals values, commitments, and goodness that have a healing effect.

About the title I have given this essay, all of us being different and yet the same, I quote Sydney J. Harris.  He flavors my thoughts writing:  Between the extreme of the “individualist,” on the one hand, and the “collectivist” on the other, we need to hold to the idea of the “person.”

A story of the kind of Presence that may be within our desire and experience is this scene:

In a book called “The Town Beyond the Wall” by Elie Wiesel, there is a character named Michael who has been in prison for some time.  In one scene, Michael is talking to a believer who asks how he has kept his sanity while being locked up so long.  Michael confides his secret.  He has found a true friend with whom he can share his innermost thoughts and hurts and hopes.  By finding that kind of companionship in such stifling circumstances, he has kept himself together.  At that moment, Michael sees a knowing look in the eye of his visitor, which infuriates him.  An atheist and proud of it, Michael quickly says, “Don’t try to tell me that God sent this friend to me in prison.”  The believer replies, “No, I won’t tell you that.  My God doesn’t send people to prison.  He goes himself.”