Audio Version of The Good (of) Endings – Part I One of my favorite things about living in “big sky” country are the sunsets. I grew up in West Virginia – and I can tell you from experience, we are not known for our sunsets. Mainly because there is always a mountain or hill getting in the way of the view. Until I went to college in Ohio and was surrounded on every side by those flat cornfield lands, I had no idea how wide and impressive sunsets could be! I would stand outside mesmerized as I watched the textured castle ceilings blaze with glory and artistic brilliance – golds, peaches, passion fruits, roses, blood reds, dove blues and deep shadowy purples – all taking their turn on an ever-changing sunset canvas. Whether you are seeing them in full splendor on the midwest plains or snatches of color from the bottom of a river valley in the Appalachian mountains, the same thing happens to both of them – they gradually fade away into the darkening night.
They never stay. Their beauty can be recorded on a photograph, but the inimitable presence of the sunset’s life can be counted in mere minutes – and then it is gone. Never to return. An ending to mark the end of a day that also will never come again. Endings are a part of our daily life, but somehow we never seem to get used to them coming or welcome their intrusion into our lives. For that is how I often saw the endings in my life – as intruders or trespassers. Unwelcome and uninvited.
“All good things must come to an end.” I have heard this said many times in my life – always with a sigh of regret and resignation to punctuate this untrue proverb. I have even heard myself say it at such moments that I find myself wishing life were not so filled with endings. We inherit this proverb from Chaucer in the 1300’s, but we have turned the quote on its head by misquoting it – The actual quote is “Everything has an end” and this truth we can read in Solomon’s writings in Ecclesiastes much earlier than Chaucer. But this is a very different thing from saying “all good things must come to an end” which gives the impression that nothing that is good will have enduring value and permanence.
But like all untruths we tell ourselves, there is often a kernel of truth. The truth hidden in this proverb is that in order to be good, some things must come to an end. As I was thinking about this two examples came to mind – pregnancy and dissertation writing (which may sound like an odd pairing, but if you have experienced one or both you will immediately see the similarities). No mother wants to be pregnant forever (just as no graduate student wants to be writing their dissertation forever). Both are rewarding experiences and both are transformative and, as far as they go, deeply good. But both the mother and the graduate student are looking ahead to being delivered of their burden. They are looking forward to an ending of one good so that another better good can take their turn on the stage – the birth of a baby in the one case and graduation with a degree in the other. These good things must give way to other good things. They are good precisely because they are limited in time.
I have been reflecting on this truth as I have been reading a book by Jeremy Begbie called, Theology, Music and Time. In this book, he uses music as a way of thinking about our experience of time – beginnings and endings. He says, “Music depends heavily for its meaning on finitude at every level. Tones give way to tones. Music is constantly dying, giving way. The next tone in the plainsong melody can only come if the last one is not sung.” (p. 92)
This analogy rings true as it calls to mind another picture that we are given by Jesus who said, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24) or as another translation has it, “its death will produce many new kernels – a plentiful harvest of new lives.”
As you watch the sunset tonight or prepare for bed at the close of another day, I would challenge you to speak a word of blessing and grace over another gift of an ending, which invites the birth of new beginnings in the morning.
Here is a blessing that I found which specifically speaks a healing word about the good of endings in our lives:
May your endings be embraced with fervor equal to what
you gave your beginnings.
May the stopping places in your life create a space
for what is yet to be known.
Instead of sorrow, may you find joy.
Instead of hopelessness, may you find possibility.
Instead of terror, may you find peace.
When you face an ending,
may you know it as another beginning
tinged with the potential of a small seed in dark soil.
In the blackness of grief may life push through
and soften your sadness.
~from “Lenten Blessings” on explorefaith.org