Life, like music, is written on two levels. Music has a treble line and a bass line, marked by the two distinctive clefs. The bass line is the “bottom line” of earthbound realities — seen, touched and heard. This is the totally human side of life and it can be good or bad, light or heavy, happy or gloomy.
The treble line is what philosophers call “the transcendent,” the divine reality that now and then breaks in on us, sometimes to judge, sometimes to inspire. It is the glory that now and then erupts in the midst of the commonplace, lighting up life for a moment with an unearthly splendor. It is a gift of God. It is no less real than the bass line.
Life is most real when the piece that was originally written for two hands brings the two melodies together in haunting harmony.
As Christians we sometimes think that we live in two different worlds. Actually, we live in one world made up of two levels of life that sometimes conflict with one another and sometimes blend in beauty.
The human level alone is shallow and tinny. The divine seems distant from daily demands. One is not better or worse than the other. The blend is what counts.
We give thanks for each. We can count our blessings at the human level — the beauty and richness of the earth, autumn colors, first snow, family life, work to do, bread and roses. Yet even at the most elemental level it is hard to separate one world from the other. Behind the Thanksgiving dinner, turkey, cranberries, pumpkin pie and all, is the giver of gifts. How strange it must be to come to Thanksgiving with no one to thank. We rejoice that the earthy and earthly elements of celebration are signs of love from the creator.
We look around the table and bass clef and treble clef come together. These children whom we feed and clothe, in whom we rejoice at Thanksgiving, are also God’s gift. Kahlil Gilbran, the Lebanese mystic poet, reminds us, “They come through you, yet are not from you; and though they are with you, they belong not to you. You are the bow from which your children as arrows are sent forth. Let your bending in the archer’s hands be for gladness. For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so he loves also the bow that is stable.”
Our love for our partners contains both worlds. It is as down to earth as human passion, but as ethereal as heaven. Good marriages are both gift of God and human achievement. Pearl Buck wrote, “Love cannot be coaxed or teased. It comes out of heaven unasked and unsought.”
The harmony of the two levels, the two worlds, is sometimes hard to achieve. Some families arrive at Thanksgiving this year with homes broken, with a shattering medical report, with a position terminated, with child in jail, with books revealing an imminent bankruptcy. What shall we then say to these things?
We shall say this. Life, at best, is a fragile gift, easily broken. It is perishable and vulnerable, and while it yields the kind of joy that makes Thanksgivings memorable, it may also bring us to this season with no more in our hearts than a cry for help. What shall we say to these things? We shall say the cry is answered, that nothing shall separate us from the love of God.