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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

February 2, 2004
Vol. 1, No. 193




Pat Marrin Leap year is an invitation

By Pat Marrin, editor of Celebration

Today's Gospel reading: "Behold this child is destined to be a sign that will be contradictedů" Luke 2:35. Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.
We enter the second month of 2004, a leap year. February will have 29 days. Every four years an extra day is added to February to correct a calendar deviation from the actual time it takes the earth to do a complete circuit around the sun. Without this one-day correction, our calendar would gradually slip out of sync with the seasons. The added day fills a gap, provides a leap to catch up, to bring our idea of time back into conformity with that vast, relative but measurable movement of the planet that carries us through space.

The leap year correction is a small reminder to us of the immense reality of the universe and our fragile presence within it. If you live in the northern hemisphere, you rose this morning in the dark of winter, washed your face in a sink whose draining water receded clockwise. You pulled on your coat to brace the cold air. We set our watches, turn over our calendars. Perhaps we are even vaguely aware as we enter traffic on snowy streets that the tilt of the earth on its axis holds us farther from the sun, whose arc moved across the southern sky during this phase of our solar orbit. We will watch for the days to grow longer now, and soon warmer temperatures will return, bringing spring.

Leap year is also an invitation. There are times in life when, because of the inadequacy of our ways of thinking, our artificial constructs and institutions, we simply cannot adjust to changing reality. We lack the imaginative power, the creative courage, to do things differently, to leave behind the security of how things have always been done to risk some new, bold way of thinking. We need to leap across the gap. If we do not adjust our understanding of changing reality, we will fall behind, get hopelessly out of sync. We have come to the end of one road, encountered the old wisdom warning us, "You can't get there from here." But we can't stay here. We must go forward.

A devout Jewish couple, obedient to the Law, brings their newborn son to the Temple to present him to God. Then, by offering two turtledoves, they ritually exchange him again so they can take him home. Two elderly figures, steeped in the Temple traditions and the scriptures, ask to hold the child. One, an old man named Simeon, praises God that he has lived to see this child, whose life will have a decisive impact on the lives of many, causing some to rise, others to fall. He looks at the boy's mother and tells her that her child will be a sign of contradiction and the cause of great suffering to her. Her child will grow up within the rich cycles and observances of his faith, going to synagogue, marking the feasts of the calendar year with ritual sacrifices. But in the midst of his life, he will make small leaps of interpretation and practice that, in the end, will change everything. He will leap from law to grace, from exclusivity to inclusivity, from a God of fear to one of unconditional love.

Other Today's Takes by Pat Marrin
Dec. 5, 2003 We are expecting a baby
Dec. 4, 2003 Facing the storm head-on
Dec. 3, 2003 Just one pope away from ...
Dec. 2, 2003 'Hope is the thing with feathers'
Dec. 1, 2003 Peace: the minimum requirement
Oct. 31, 2003 Freely chosen reality
Oct. 30, 2003 The burden of servant leadership
Oct. 29, 2003 Entering by the narrow gate
Part of the suffering Simeon foretold will be because of doubts surrounding Jesus' orthodoxy, his legitimacy and even his sanity. At one point we are told in Luke's Gospel, his own family sought to take him in charge, thinking him mad. John the Baptizer, who had pointed to Jesus as his precursor, expressed doubts.

Jesus did something new. And while his followers sought to establish continuity and asserted a necessary fulfillment to what he did according to the law and the prophets, this does not easily bridge the gap between old and new or lessen the shock that in his life and at his death, Jesus was regarded as a blasphemer, a heretic, cursed, rejected, excommunicated, an outcast, a criminal executed outside the walls of Jerusalem.

How do we describe ourselves in the year 2004? Do you personally and do we collectively need a leap year? Do we sense that global institutions, national interests and strategic policies may be out of sync with changing reality? Do we sometimes fear that even our religious understanding is too small, too myopic to help us chart a course into a dangerous and uncertain future? How are we to get unstuck, re-energized, refocused, renewed for the work ahead? What leap of faith and of the imagination will it take to get us from where we are to what comes next? What will it cost us to do something new? Who will lead the way?

We stand deeply within our traditions, and we do what ordinary people have always done in times of crisis. We present ourselves to the Lord. We position our small lives for whatever leap of faith we need to carry us forward into a reality that will not wait for us if we hesitate. God is doing something new. We will leap at the chance to be part of it.

Pat Marrin's e-mail addres is Celebration, NCR's sister publication, is an ecumenical worship resource. For a preview, follow this link: Celebration.
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