Thursday, January 26, 2012

12-01-22: Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jonah 3:1-5,10 / Psalm 25 / 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 / Mark 1:14-20

This Monday, January 23rd on our solar calendar, is New Year’s Day on the Chinese lunar calendar ushering in the very auspicious Year of the Dragon. According to the lunar calendar I was born in the Year of the Dragon, though in the solar calendar 1953 is usually associated with the Year of the Snake. Since I was born in the first half of January, before the Chinese New Year, my sign carries from the previous year. So I’m a dragon and not a snake. I take pride in acknowledging this fact unlike someone who might be in a similar position teetering between being a rat and a pig. Labels do matter.

Here in the West dragons have gotten a bad name. They’re usually associated with the bad guys who use them to conquer the good guys. There have been exceptions, of course. Like when Peter, Paul and Mary, back in the smoky sixties, gave us their endearing Puff, the Magic Dragon – sometimes it takes a little herbal supplement to recognize the good in what is presumed bad. In the East, though, dragons are auspicious. But they’re just mythical you might say. Not really. In Chinese (if I remember right) the word for “fossil” is literally dragon bones. It’s not a very big leap in imagination to understand that ancient peoples discovering dinosaur fossils – skeletal remains of huge dinosaurs - would enflesh those dry bones in the bedrock of their imagination and uncover some pretty impressive dragons. Matter of fact, a tremendous number of fossils were lost because the ancient Chinese (and not so ancient Chinese) would grind the fossils into powder to be consumed as a remedy for some significant ailments. Paleontologists cringe at the thought of so many dinosaur fossils having been lost to herbal medicine. Some of us just want to know if they work.

Whether you think of dragons as mythical or as just an alias for prehistoric dinosaurs, you have to admit they’re impressive creatures. Being so big they instill fear, as well they should; but we can learn a lot about nature, creation and ourselves if we let our curiosity take over and lead our imagination into unchartered territory. The renowned paleontologist, Stephen Jay Gould, said that his fascination with evolutionary biology began when, as a child, he first stepped into the Museum of Natural History and saw the giant skeletal remains of Tyrannosaurus Rex in the main lobby. And the famed Jesuit-paleontologist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin followed his curiosity all the way to China in 1929 to be a part of the historic and controversial discovery of the fossil remains of “Peking Man.” Although argued by creationists to be just an ordinary ape, a good number of scientists regard the find as an authentic one, representing our hominid ancestor. Teilhard would suffer greatly for his curiosity and search for truth, but remained steadfast to the end.

Knowing where we came from can help us understand where we’re meant to go. In the search for truth, especially truth about what it means to be a human being, we are called to dig down into the past whether we’re uncovering fragments of bones or fragments of myths. Facing the fears that those bones and those myths represent is key, C.G. Jung would say, to discovering who you are and what you’re supposed to do with this life. In today’s gospel Jesus’ call to his first disciples, “Come follow me,” is echoed in every endeavor to uncover truth. Sometimes the cost is dear, leaving everything to follow that call wherever it may lead. That’s why you need to be a dragon - no matter what year you may have been born – to explore the mystery that’s you.

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