Sunday, September 7, 2003 - Timothy C. Ahrens
Never place a period where God has placed a comma. Gracie Allen said that - one of the great theologians of the twentieth century - Gracie Allen! When I think of Gracie, I think of George Burns, her husband, and the comment he once shared after she had died. They were married over sixty years. George went to her grave site and said, "Sweetheart, there's something I forgot to tell you before you went to heaven. If you have any problems up there, deal with the son. The father can be a little rough sometimes, but the son he's one of our boys. He might be helpful!"
Never place a period where God has placed a comma. How often in your life have you placed a period on yourself? How often have you come to a place in your life when you've said, "That's it, it's over, it's all done, I can't go anywhere from here. It's finished, I'm finished, it's over."
How many times have you done that to others as well? Some of the times we do it to ourselves, we do it internally. It's a little voice speaking to us life commandments that we've heard, perhaps, or maybe that we've just given ourselves. We have a special phrase for: our self. How many times have you done it? As a parent, I'm aware that I've done it a lot, I've said things to my children that seem to be the end statement on something. I regret that, and I know that it will keep therapists in business for a long time! And put all of you together, and we really have a budding industry for the future!
How many times have you had a period placed on yourself, on your life, on you as a person? Someone has said something to you like, "That's it, you're no good." You know some of the life commandments you've heard: "You're not worth anything," "There's no saving that one." "No helping her, she'll never amount to anything." " She's a lost cause." One of the favorite phrases of the kids today is, "Loser." "Can't play, not fast enough." "That kid has pigeon toes - how is he going to run to first base?" "He's too short." "She's too tall." "He's too fat, too small, not enough, not good enough."
Well, I'm here to take a period and turn it into a comma.
God is in the comma making business, in case you didn't know. Our God is a comma maker. We should be too, if we are people of God. If we are followers of God, if we are the children of God, we need to be comma makers as well. We need to stop making periods where God has placed a comma.
The other day I heard Rabbi Harold Berman and Cantor Jack Chomsky of Tifereth Israel speak to the coming high holy days in the Jewish year. As you know, Rosh Hashanah is coming; it begins the 26th of September. It's the New Year, it's the day of celebration, and that first day is a great day of celebration in Judaism. The shofar blows and everything that comes after that is a great celebration of life. The New Year! It's the first day of the seventh month. It is a time to celebrate. What follows from that is a time of intense and long confession and repentance. Ten days of Fasting. On Rosh Hashanah "it is written" (as they say). On Yom Kippur "it is sealed." In other words, we read the text on Rosh Hashanah, and we hear of the coming time on Yom Kippur, the last day. It is sealed for the New Year. Whatever it is that we are going to be in terms of our faith life, in terms of our work life, in terms of our relational life, we've confessed, we've made amends, and we've moved into this New Year, which is sealed.
One of the powerful things that is said in the prayers of the people during this time is, "With God, it is taken care of." God forgives all, God gets on with all, but for us as humans, we have to make amends with one another. We have to actually face the person in that time with whom we are broken with and we have to mend that break. God's not going to do that for us. We have to do that. And that still is left open. Making amends is in our hands.
On the last day in a prayer called the Kol Nidre, we read: "All vows, all oaths, all promises, which we made to God from last Yom Kippur to this Yom Kippur, and we were not able to fulfill, may all such vows between ourselves and God be annulled. May the day be void and of no effect. May we be absolved of them, released from them. May these vows not be considered vows, these oaths not be considered oaths, and these promises not be considered promises." Comma, comma, comma. In the Jewish faith there are commas because their God, and our God, is in the comma making business.
Our God sent the manifestation of the comma to us, if you will, the "Great Comma," Jesus the Christ. God loved the comma making business so much that he embodied it in Christ our Lord and sent him, his whole being about re-framing; bringing commas to our lives. Jesus turned the periods that he faced into commas all the time, just read the text. There was miracle after miracle, story after story, where Jesus's life-flow, his energy, everything about him was about comma making. Grace, forgiveness, these are words that come out of the comma. Gentleness and hope, transcendent love, and eminent love right there in Christ. The greatest re-frame in the history of humankind was the crucifixion. That was a period, exclamation point event. And Jesus turned it into a comma on Easter in the resurrection, giving all of us new hope every day. So, that's the nature of our God and God's son, our friend, "who's one of our boys!"
This summer, I saw two films that tell true-life stories about how to turn periods into commas: Antoine Fisher, and Seabiscuit. One of these true stories, Antoine Fisher, is about a man in the Navy whose life was transformed by a therapist. He was loved, experienced grace, and experienced family for the first time in his life through this commander who was a therapist. In fact, he had been so beaten and bruised by life, he didn't even know what family looked like. He began to rebuild, comma, by comma, by comma. It is a great story. The film is about a man from Cleveland and the opening scene of the movie was filmed on a farm here in Ohio. The filmmakers wanted to find a white barn somewhere in the heartland of America, so they came to Hardin county. Denzel Washington and the crew flew over Ohio in a helicopter to find the perfect white barn.
My uncle, who was the extension agent in Hardin County until his retirement, shared this story and I pass it onto you. The farm they found was the farm of the best-known racist in Hardin County. And anyone who knows the film knows that Denzel Washington is the filmmaker and writer, and it's about a black man. It's about an African American man who comes to life. Well, Denzel Washington heard this, went to the farm, and knocked on the door. With his greatest persona, and those of us who love Denzel know that he has a very flashy smile, he said to the man as he came to the door, "I'm Denzel Washington and I'm filming here in Ohio. I'd like to use your farm as part of my scenes in an early part of the movie." And the man said, "Get lost." Denzel said, "But I'm Denzel Washington."
Top of the Page