"Sand through the hourglass can build castles or be an irritation in one's bathing suit."
One of the classes I took this year at Course of Study was Bible 4: Prophets, Psalms and Wisdom Literature. This class was taught by one of my favorite professors, one who has been teaching at Course of Study for forty years now. Professor Wright is a respected Old Testament scholar and yet she makes her first year students wear something on their heads during class. For lack of craftier materials, most of us donned hats made from toilet paper and learn well our first lesson- not to take ourselves too seriously. She is fluent in Biblical Hebrew, Greek and Latin but has also recently learned Spanish, because it seemed practical to speak a language people actually still use. In her classes, our ideas and beliefs are always valued but also rigorously stretched.
This year in Bible 4, we learned that the Old Testament prophets were often asked to do some pretty odd things to make God's point, like cook lunch over dung or walk around naked for three years. Not the most appropriate means of communicating the word of God in modern culture, but it got us thinking about what would work best. We learned that the rhythm and reason of the psalms allowed for celebration and confidence interlaced with lament and doubt. We learned to avoid Ecclesiastes if you want to be cheered up and skip the book of Job if you really want answers to life's toughest questions. And we learned that the original intent of the book of Proverbs probably had more to do with how to find a good wife and live in society than anything to do with God.
We had much reading and many papers to write that challenged our brains, but one assignment gave us the chance to exercise our creativity and sense of humor too! We were asked to write five proverbs for the church today. That's one of mine at the top of the page. Even more than good grades on the papers, I found myself cherishing the professor's comment that this proverb "made her chuckle out loud." Yippy!
It is true though, isn't it? We all age, at an increasing rate it seems some days. Yes, the days of our lives are like sand through the hourglass (cue sappy, soap opera music). Aging can be irritating. I'm discovering this more and more! It seems that the more we try to block the falling sand, the faster it flows and the more it chaffs. And perhaps it pains us even more as we watch those around us, their upper globe empting, with no way to flip the hourglass.
Perhaps, as people with God-given purpose and community, we should really focus more on what we can do (build) with the sand. How do we use the grainy wisdom we're given? Are we teaching someone else to do what our weakened hands can no longer accomplish? Are we encouraging someone to shoulder weight that our sore backs can no longer manage? Are we asking someone else to peer into the distance to a future our own arms aren't long enough to focus on? Are we blending our stories into that of the community before they fade from our senior memories? Are we building castles or just accumulating grit?
Since my first encounter with Dr. Wright four years ago, I have tried to figure out her age. There is no way I'd ever ask for risk of insult (though she'd probably just laugh!). Honestly, deep down, I think I prefer not knowing. There is a mystical agelessness to her- her wisdom is both young and old. Old in its abundance and her generosity with it; young in her not-too-serious quest for more. It is as if her hourglass has not been sealed at either top or bottom. What wisdom do I bring back from school this year? What meaningful prophetic utterance or song of truth? Never stop learning; never stop teaching. Never stop building, even if the building material is a bit scratchy. And never take yourself too seriously!
"Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." (Psalm 90:12)
With a grain of proverbial sand,