Getting close but not quite there
History, ancient, modern and recent is full of examples of people who share an experience which you may understand:have you ever arrived at a facility seconds after it has closed? Have you just missed the last post? Have you seen the plane you were supposed to be on, taking off? Have you just fallen below the required standard?
You are in good company. Moses saw the promised land, but did not enter; David had a vision to build the temple, but never did; Judas spent three years with Jesus of Nazareth and missed the point; Ananias and Sapphira came close to generosity but, fatally, held a little back; the rich young ruler came to Jesus, asked the right question, got the right answer and walked away; someone nearly joined The Beatles before they became famous; someone turned down Elvis Presley for a recording contract; Alan Turing invented the computer but others have made the money; Felix was almost persuaded by Paul, but not quite. The word that describes this experience is ‘nearly’. The patron saint of ‘nearly people’ does not have a name. He meets Jesus in Mark’s Gospel and is described as a teacher. Jesus pronounces that he is not far from the Kingdom of God.
‘Nearly’, ‘not far’,’ almost’ – words that indicate a closeness to achievement, greatness or even the finish line, but not quite; they conjure up the image of the marathon runner collapsing yards before the tape.
There is an old English proverb which goes, ‘There is many a slip twixt cup and lip’. It has its roots in a Greek story of returning Argenaut who, being told he would never drink wine again, calls for a toast. Just as he is about to drink, he is summoned to fight and hunt a wild boar – a fight in which he dies.
So here is a small ‘in between’ time, the short distance between cup and lip – when the outcome seems certain, yet it does not happen.
Storytellers harness the idea to hold the tension – the last minute rescue or escape in the face of certain death; the last minute downfall of the villain; the last minute embrace at the airport which rescues romance.
The question which arises is how actually to avoid the slip; how might it be possible to cross the finish line, enter the promised land or catch the prize?
I will suggest a three-in-one solution: firstly, never ever give up – perseverance is a key spiritual discipline and its practise separates the ‘nearly’ from the ‘actual’ people; secondly, keep choosing – choice is more an exercise than a discipline; it takes an enormous amount of willpower to keep choosing one path over another; thirdly, obedience seems to separate the try-ers from the finders.
But as you read my three suggestions, you will see that they are very active, energy sapping and challenging activities…..which brings me to this one: Somewhere, underneath, deep in our souls, there is a call to trust. Moses had to trust that he would see a promised land; David that there would a temple. In the end, there is a more submissive and even passive discipline which manages the micro ‘in between’ moment spanning cup and lip – it is trust in the hand that pours the wine, offers the cup and says ‘drink’. Don’t ask me to explain that – it requires vision beyond eyesight, hearing beyond earshot and stepping out onto the surface of the water. In the end, it is trust which moves you from ‘nearly’ to ‘really’.
28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important? 29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” 32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
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