Casting Bread Upon the Waters
Casting Bread Upon the Waters
The problem with my consciousness is that I often feel so empty, like I haven't done much with my life or mattered significantly to those around me.
No, I am not soliciting an invitation for you to contradict me. So, please, don't send me any scolding or affirming Email. My penchant for self-pity is well-documented. And I do realize that, in fact, I have received double, even triple, my share of honors, plaques, love purses, and awards in the plentiful years I have been granted to walk and limp and walk again through time. Don't cry for me, America!
Still I am surprised when out of the electronic ether there arrives a message, unsolicited, celebrating bread I once long ago cast upon the waters, returning now, in the words of the late Alexander King, as Lorna Doones. Crusts and crumbs unwittingly scattered in the normal course of one's duties come back with sweetness. Just so this morning I opened an Email message, a response to my response to his original message, in which he fills my emptiness on a morning of freezing rain: "...your skills as a preacher and role model as a human being have served me well by developing my faith and showing me how to live my life."
He goes on to mention a friend from the same Brooklyn neighborhood, a young man now closing in on sixty-five. The last time I saw my celebrator we sat at a table in a restaurant along Sunset Park's Shanghai Avenue once Lobskaus Blvd. The occasion was the sixty-five year old's sixtieth birthday. At the end of the evening as I made to leave the upper room I stopped by the celebrant's mother's table. She had raised five children, three girls and two boys singlehandedly and each of them had gotten a good education, a well-paying job, a happy marriage, and fulfilling go at this mortal life. I congratulated her, "You sure did a good job with your children." Without missing a beat, she fixed me with her eyes, "Yes, Pastor Howard, we did a good job." And she wasn't using the royal "we."
The problem with Jimmy Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life" is that he wasn't sufficiently aware of the difference he had made in other people's lives. Providentially, he had an angel to remind him.
But this is 2005, not 1939. Heralding angels have always been in short supply. So many souls are needy, heaven would have to have billions of them. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on the level of your electronic competence), in the fullness of time God has provided us with Email. Thus it comes to pass that my in-box on a gray morning jingles with a happy reminder that, contrary to my prevailing mood, my life and work have been of some value... and stop grousing in your Snapple, Howard.
Those of us who try to abide by the Golden Rule will get another message: go and do likewise.
Tell that orthopedist about the miracle he performed. Tell that cook in your kitchen how grateful you are for the BLT. Tell your daughters how proud you are of them. Tell the preacher "that was a good sermon" without adding sotto voce "for a change." Give the postal worker a big thank you and a gift at Christmas, for a year of dependable service. The newspaper delivery people too. Tell the fellow with the snowblower clearing a path on your sidewalk that he is a good neighbor indeed. Tell the cheerful clerk at the counter that her sunshine has brightened your day. And, by all means, tell the person with whom you have shared fifty years that the duration seems more like five and you would never have lived so long without her.
For that line from the King James Version of Ecclesiastes 11:1, "Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days," does not explain who is sending it back our way. Well, of course, it's God... or the way things are by God's design. But my personal experience of that design usually means human agency somewhere. That is, out beyond the waters there has to be a bakery where the cast crumbs are retrieved, remolded, baked, and sent cascading back in our direction. Those of us who like the taste of Lorna Doones ought, if we like them to keep rolling in with the waves, attend to a little baking of our own.
Like a certain Galilean prophet opined, "The measure you give will be the measure you get." In fact, he was understating the matter. Thinking of crumbs and shortbread: almost always we get a lot better than we give.