When I was in grade school, I learned cursive writing through the Palmer Method of penmanship. The Palmer Method â which, like narrow lapels and even narrower ties, is cycling back â requires endlessly repeating several connected, basic motions over and over again to get the correct slant and shape of the letters, and the proper place to connect them to each other, when finally you were allowed to write them. I faced the Palmer Method with a basic handicap. I am left-handed; it demanded I be right-handed. I would not; Miss Schafer, my teacher, could not; and my father would not allow her to change the hand with which I write. This resulted in one additional problem. The Palmer Method demanded that everyoneâs right-handed, endless, connected, repeated motions lean right. Mine leaned left; and now, in everything, I still do.
My least favorite basic, connected and endlessly repeated exercise was the circle, which is needed for about half the letters in the cursive alphabet. Start at the top; come down to the left; up to the right; connect at the bottom, start over and over and over again. It was monotonous and boring.
My left-handed always smudged the ink on the page. The heel of my hand always had a messy inky stain. Yet the exercise had to be repeated â daily â over and over again. It got really old, really fast.
Circles, cycles, connected, endlessly repeated, thatâs seems to be the way more and more of us describe the way weâre living. The market cycles up â and down â over and over again. The deal to avert the âfiscal cliff;â is up, then down, then up again. Global crises circle the globe â The Eurozone, Greece, Afghanistan, Korea, Egypt, Israel, Syria then back again. We cycle between doctorâs visits, family crises, boyfriends and the like. Cycles and circles are so prevalent that we no longer have ânewsâ anymore, we have a ânews cycle.â Monotonous, boring, messy -- and getting old really, really fast. âStop the madness,â we silently shout.
âAnd the crowds asked [John the Baptizer], âWhat then should we do?â"
Circles. Cycles. Stop the madness 2,000 years ago. Oppression. Depression. Inflation. Deflation. Religious fanaticism. Religious indifference. Social dominance.
Societal collapse. Hope. Fear. Defeat. âWay back then, In Jerusalem and Judea was getting really old, really fast, too.
So the crowds asked, "What then should we do?"
Like us, they had their response in mind. How do you say it, Eschen? âAttack, defend, collapse, flee or freeze.â Perfectly human, perfectly normal, but also perfectly cyclical; messy, monotonous and boring. This too gets really old, really fast.
"âWhat then should we do?â" How then shall we break the cycle?
John the Baptizer responds to that endlessly repeated question with a Gospel-centered answer.
One who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
Notice first how Johnâs answer changes the question. The crowds ask, "What then should we do?" John answers by telling them what God is doing. John answers by pointing them to a specific kairotic moment.
Kairotic moments. The Scriptures â and our lives â are filled with them. Moments in the circle of life when God directly intervenes to stop the cycle, change its direction and rescue is from its messy, monotonous and numbing manner. The rescue from Egypt. The words of the prophets. The birth of Jesus. His death and resurrection. The sending of the holy and life-giving Spirit: These are all biblical kairotic moments. Watch for them, John says. Rejoice in them, John says. Let these moments, when God intervenes, rescue you from the endless, repeated, and connected cycles that numb you and bore you and suck the marrow out of your life. âGod is coming,â John announces. âWatch for the moment! Rejoice, shout and be glad.â
Howâs that going for you today, sisters and brothers? Same old, same old? âThe holidays,â â again!
Or, as one of my colleagues recently put it, âIâm not really into it;â or, as one of my neighbors just questioned, âMaybe itâs the election or the storm, but it doesnât really feel the same this year.â Are you experiencing any kairotic moments right now? Are you experiencing God with us?
Donât feel badly if you arenât. Donât even wonder, as did the crowds on Jordanâs banks, âWhat then shall we do?â Those feelings and that response will not give comfort and will not provide any answers. Whenever we are convinced that our life is going in circles; whenever we believe life is getting really old, really fast, God shows up in kairotic moment, to intervene in our lives, to stop or change the direction of the circle; to make all things new; to give us Good News; to stop the madness.
Thatâs why God gives us the Eucharist, the mass, the presence of Christ in bread and wine intersecting our lives, here and among and with and, most importantly for us. When we canât see Godâs intervening kairotic moment in the endlessly repeating circles of our lives, God gives us this kairotic moment. God opens our eyes so that we might see. God renews our faith and revives our hope. Here, now, for us through this sacrament in this place. And the only proper response is to simply enjoy the moment.