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Some are fired into service; others wait, looking smart in their cherry-red caps.

“To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened (Luke 13:20-21). Jesus likens this pedestrian image to the kingdom of God, an image unique in his teachings and often expressed in parables.

During the time of Jesus, Palestinian women always put aside moldy bread or leaven—a kind of poison—for the daily baking for their families. Only the smallest amount was used for their loaves that ballooned in the morning sun.

But Jesus speaks of this woman hiding leaven in three measures of flour, enough flour to fill a warehouse with bread—an absurd exaggeration, until his listeners catch on. Jesus is referencing humankind’s relation with God, in all his disguises. Such parables inflamed the imaginations of his listeners: they would remember.

I, too, had a similar response to the parable, one that recasts my terminal illness in a different light.

Like the leaven hid in the flour, terminal disease hides out in my lungs, imperceptibly hardening their airways and compromising my breathing—a slow process, admittedly, but relentless in its damage. Yet, paradoxically, this disorder continues expanding my passion for communion with God, within this mysterious kingdom.

Just as the fire of the bake oven transforms the leavened dough, the fire of diminishment transforms the psyche: both, critical processes to be endured. This is Kingdom living, both here and hereafter.

A small fire at night.

Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

So said Michelangelo, sixteenth-century Florentine artist and poet, of the method in which he worked: his sinewy hands surrendered to the fire of his imagination directing his hammers, chisels, and polishers. Unlike his peers who fashioned clay models to work from, Michelangelo sketched his, then inked significant marks upon marble blocks, cut from the quarry near Carrara. What emerged were works in progress, at times, with unintended forms, some left unfinished.

What was significant was their strange beauty.

In my perception, a parallel exists between this anecdote and growing old. Often, the expression, growing old, is voiced in pejorative tones and says much about the one expressing it.

But growing into old age is a critical process filled with discoveries of who we really are and are becoming. Acceptance of new limits, experienced like the Sculptor’s hammering, unsettle the familiar, reveal comic aspects of former behaviors, and shake free the shrouds of relationships. Such acceptance also floods the present with fresh grace to continue exploring unscaled vistas of imagination. Here, the Polisher takes over.

Fine-mesh pads evoke startling dreams from the psyche, smooth over owned mistakes of whatever magnitude, and release colors into what were drab scenarios of experience. The challenge is to remain beneath the Polisher’s tool until the sheen of being catches fire in the light.

Within this light, we see anew and clap hands as we wait for the strange beauty to emerge.  It will come…

 

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