the two sons and me

see Proper 21 (year A)

detail, January, Limbourg Bros., Les Tres Riches Heures

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go.” (Matthew 21:28-30)

I’m both these sons. All day long.

I’m the second son: “Lord, Lord. Yes, yes. Sure, sure.” I look good. And then I disappear.

And I’m the first son: “Ah, no, thanks, I don’t think so.” “I can’t! Leave me alone!”  Or some spiritual equivalent of “The dog will, I’m sure, eat my homework…” But somehow I rally at the eleventh hour. But not without wasting all that time and energy insulting, procrastinating, doubting, and obstructing.

For the last forty years or so, when I wake up I say: Open my lips O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. (Psalm 51:15) Maybe I proclaim God’s praise for about five minutes. By the time I’ve gone downstairs to boil water for tea, I’m mucking around in the cloudy banality of my soul and psyche. The second son.

The last few months, however, as my head nestles into the pillow at night I name ten things for which I am grateful that day. I’m surprised that I choose such subtle things: a sudden breeze on my face, the play of sunlight on the path through the woods to the convent, someone’s smile. If I’ve been crabby all day, absenting myself from wonder and reverence, I feel especially first son-ish when I offer my gratitude.

“Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” (Matthew 21:31a)

The last moments of the day save me. Perhaps I need more practice of gratitude throughout the day. Even giving thanks for my murky soul and its moments absorbing the subtle plays of light illuminating the path.

Grateful living: an alchemic operation of converting “disgraceful” things into grateful events.
-Raimundo Panikkar

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