A guest in the backyard of Manna House shared his approach to living in the hot and still humid early September Memphis weather.
A slight breeze tried to move the dense air. This guest shared that he does not expect the heat to break anytime soon.
“Looks like it will be another week or more. But what can you do? Make the best of it. Keep living.”
I thought, this is Job who has heard God speaking out the whirlwind, reminding Job that God is the Creator, and the world (including its weather) does not exist under Job’s direction but under God’s (Job 38-41).
Like the biblical Job, the Job of the backyard has learned that there are powers so great that the best one can do is adjust to them, survive them, acknowledge their presence, make peace with them, and keep going.
I heard in this response, the biblical Job’s response to God. Here is a willingness to listen, to learn, and to go on, chastened but assured of God’s loving presence.
“I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.
“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.’
My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore, I humble myself
and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:1-6).
The great illusion that I live under so often is that I am in control. This illusion drives my attempt to control my own life, and the lives of others, and even the world around me. The illusion of control tempts me to do violence, to try and force the world to meet my expectations. At the very least I get angry and live with a kind of frustrated smoldering resentment because I cannot make the world fit into my expectations. My desire for control can even make me try to make God into my own image, giving divine sanction to my efforts to control others.
This teacher at Manna House, this Job of the backyard, points to another way. This is not passivity or resignation to the inevitable. Rather it is a way of compassion, of acknowledgement of shared suffering, shared vulnerability, and the commitment to live through it together. It is a way of modesty about my place as a human being in a world which is not centered on me.
The reality of struggle is not denied, but it is also not defeating. I can live with this Power greater than me because it is not out to get me, even if it is not organized around my desires, and not amenable to my control. God is disclosed to us, James Gustafson wrote in “Theocentric Ethics,” as the powers bearing down upon us, sustaining us, and ordering human life within the complex interactions of the natural and social worlds. God both makes possible our lives and places limits upon us.
The Job of the backyard teaches me humility. This word, derived from the Latin “humus,” means earth or dirt. I am of this earth. I live within the heat and humidity. And with others, I can do this with hope, and maybe even love. And that is challenging.