Tuesday, November 4, 2003 9:17 AM CST
By: Gary DeVaul
A Changeling is an impish child, deftly put in the place of another by fairies in folk tales. The Changeling for some represents the Trickster, the one who throws us curves in life. The Changeling is ambivalent. It cares for neither good nor evil; it just loves to watch us squirm. Ancient mythology teaches us that the Changeling is only stymied when we take its curve ball and hit a home run with it. Even then, the Changeling is relentless. It never stops pitching; it has an inevitable quality.
Mark and I have a good friend here in Ogunquit. He's an interesting man and he drives antique cars. Our friend doesn't like change, and he's pretty vociferous about it. The Changeling loves to watch him squirm. Our friend likes the old dirt road that leads up to his beautiful house overlooking Ogunquit and the sea beyond. But he is faced with a dilemma. Change for the road is just around the corner. Isabel shed her angry tears on us and washed the road out again. Our friend is frustrated now. He has to pave the road, and he resents the change. He's not alone. We've all experienced the frustration of change and the challenges it brings.
For Mark change came in a matter of seconds; seconds that will stretch into years; seconds that will reach into every mundane and monumental moment of his life; seconds that have changed on a subterranean level, his life, my life, and some of yours as well. After all, are not our lives and accumulation of seconds, each one transformed by voluntary or involuntary change? There are two questions that bubble to the surface. Are we going to react to the changes in our lives with anger, fear, and frustration? Or are we going to recognize these mutations as watershed, crossroad experiences, and allow the Spirit to enable us to transform pain into personal progress? It's true that every problem offers us possibilities for progress. Within every prospective problem, is the inherent opportunity for spiritual growth and physical and financial progress, just to name a few. But the one thing we can take to the bank with us is this: Change is inevitable. Progress is not. Progress is up to you and me.
When confronted by spectacularly profound change, it is usually time to rethink who we are and what we're doing. The accident of August 3rd was Mark's personal equivalent of our nation's Nine Eleven. Nine Eleven forced us all to sort and sift our national consciousness, and in a very real sense redefined who we are. Every day that we turned on the TV and saw the newscasts we were confronted with the permanence and the surreal loss of those beautiful buildings and the lives they carried within. No matter how many times we turned the TV off, and on again, the loss would not go away. The only thing permanent about change is its inevitability. Change is inevitable.
Because we didn't want him to fall behind the pain curve again, it was my job to see to it that Mark didn't oversleep and be late taking his medicine. Every morning I would begin my day by awakening him, see the bandages and the arm that was not there. And every morning I would see the look on his face as he awoke to the knowledge that it was real, that it was gone... that the change was permanent. Where did he go with the painful realization of the moment?
Where did the Nation go immediately after Nine Eleven? The Nation gathered at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. Mark went to the Temple within. He would close his eyes and go to the sacred center within, find Grace and then take his medicine. He did not squirm and fight the Changeling. He embraced the challenge. Every morning the Changeling's curve ball was pitched and every morning Mark managed to reach within and hit a home run; well, at least a base hit.
In John 8: 1-11, Jesus sets the example for us regarding how we are to behave in the face of the Changeling's tricky challenges. Jesus the Rabbi was teaching in the Temple. In the gospels, when Jesus is referred to as Rabbi or Teacher, it is a call for us to listen up! For the Teacher is about to teach us something vital to our personal spiritual progress.
A gang of Scribes and Pharisees, the equivalent of our lawyer/politicians and media, approached Jesus with a woman in tow. They had been waiting for the opportunity to catch Jesus in the Temple in front of his students and embarrass Him; the whole deal was a set-up. So they undoubtedly entrapped the woman and brought her to Him. It's an important moment. The challenge of the Changeling was in the air. The woman's life hung in the balance. And remember, they could bring charges against Jesus if He answered incorrectly.
The accusers said, "Look here Rabbi. We caught this woman in the very act of adultery. We know she's guilty. You know she's guilty. The law says she dies. We say she dies. What do you say?"
Jesus was quiet. Then He knelt down on the ground, the same ground from which the stones in their hands were taken. The gang is heckling now! But Jesus is still teaching. He's writing something in the dust with his finger. After writing, with their curses ringing in His ears, He stands and speaks, "Alright... Is there anyone here who has not sinned, if so, you cast the first stone?" And once more He knelt at their feet and continued to write in the dust.
Now it becomes quiet. Now it's the Changeling's turn to squirm. What's this fool doing writing in the dust? Instead of standing and fighting, why is He kneeling before the accusers? What is He writing? The coward should be striking back! Instead He's writing in the dust, on the ground. The Scribes are the ones that should be writing. Look! The Pharisees, the old ones, they can't look at what He's writing. They're turning away! What is He writing?
I'll tell you what He was writing. But first you think about it. If you were the accuser what would make you turn tail and run? Yes, you're right. You got it. He was writing their names and listing their sins, one by one in the dust on the Temple ground.
Jesus out tricked the Trickster. He defused the Changeling's entrapment by forcing the accusers to look within. He taught us a great lesson that day. The Rabbi's response was not to throw accusations. He could have said, "Hey, which one of you was with this woman?" But He did not. He did not argue, or squirm, or curse. He did not challenge them in return. He did what Rabbis do best. He simply asked a question and forced them to look for Grace within. They found it and left. The challenge of change is inevitable but spiritual progress is not. It has to do with our response to it.
If when we are confronted by the Changeling's taunt, we go into the Temple, rather than go out and strike back, we win. Then we will hear the thump, thump, thump; of the stones falling to the floor of the Temple yard. It's the home run hardball hitting the center field wall.
I know that it hurts to read this, but the importance outweighs the pain. Each morning my buddy awakens to see a stump. That's right, a stump. A stump that represents an arm and hand that he thought was his future. The Changeling had a different idea and threw him a curve ball. Today, this morning, he looked at the stump, closed his eyes, and went within to the Temple where Grace lives. After the Amen, he swung his legs over the bed and went into the bathroom to brush his teeth. Oh yes, the Changeling follows him there as well. Mark picked up the toothbrush gripped the handle between his teeth. Then he put the toothpaste on the brush. He then put down the toothpaste, took the brush from his teeth, turned it around and began scrubbing. The Changeling cursed and squirmed and fled.
Change is inevitable. Progress is not. Progress is up to us!
P.S. There is another important level to John's Gospel story. Just a few feet away from where Jesus wrote in the dust on the floor of the outer courtyard with His finger (For women were not allowed in the inner court.) was the Holy of Holies. Within that sanctuary resided the great Ark of the Covenant. Within the Ark, placed under the Mercy Seat, was the stone tablets upon which God wrote the Ten Commandments. The people of Israel believed the Commandments were written by the very finger of God.