He took a sip of his iced coffee and set the full glass down too close to the baby stationed at the counter. He failed to appreciate the proximal danger due to the distracting bleat of a plaintive three-year-old.
Then it happened: an overturned glass; the sound of doom. He turned toward the scene to find the glass on its side and ice littered across the countertop, the mixture of cold coffee and milk coursed the channels of the tile, reaching from the edge and dripping into the towel drawer left ajar, soiling a stack of fresh towels.
The baby was unperturbed, her eyes cerulean bemused by the commotion she had caused, as her father realized that the glass was caught in the force of inertia, rolling toward the edge of the countertop. The glass would soon lose its surface, land on the floor, and erupt in a million iced-coffee-flecked shards.
Spilled coffee and ice is a mess, but nothing like the hazard of broken glass to the tiny bare feet and dogs’ paws traversing the floor a hundred times a day. He was simply too far away and one second too late.
In seconds, this small catastrophe was swiftly exhausting all of his reserve intended to fuel the entire day. His anger and frustration at his own stupidity stirred up a flame that began to consume his hopes for Another Tuesday with four clamorous children, his prayers to God for patience and understanding, and his aspirations for productivity and order.
He then remarked to himself, or perhaps he reverted to his conversation with God – since children neither listen nor care for the mutterings of fathers on all fours – that a broken glass teaches a lesson about perception having to do with timing and proximity.
One will never observe anything unless oriented in the correct direction. A warning must be received before it has effect, and it requires that the receiver be disposed to heed the warning, and draw meaning from it. A warning without substance is merely an alarm.
He imagined the shattered glass as the unheeded warnings issued by the Church. Due to human fault, the cries of the Church are disregarded by many who have lost confidence in the message, because the messengers themselves frequently take no benefit from that which they deliver.
The good news is not a warning. Fundamentally, the good news is a message of joy and a promise of life eternal. How does this gospel explain the lawlessness that now pervades our institutions, including at times the Church herself? What of the exaltation of the individual, the making of self into god?
Like flies, man is often attracted to things that taste sweet and smell foul. We extol the ease with which acclaim and money and fame and respect is showered upon the entirely mediocre. We can see – because we relish watching – human acts of desperation, recklessness and abuse.
Without the needed perspective, without the guidance of the Church, we are left to rely upon our own unavailing attempts at empiricism, taking as sacrament the lie justifying preference for self over others. It is suggested by fiat of fallacy that so long as we do not directly harm anyone, then we may do what we will because something about us merits doing so.
Yes, we innovate systems of merit: things like “citizenship” and “hard work” and “preference” and “talent” and “beauty” and “intelligence” – based upon what we already have or what we can easily attain. We set our merits to work for ourselves in pursuit of strong distractions and tempting bait. Money. Sex. Power. Pleasure. Fame. Security. Comfort.
For the billions privileged to live in the first world, where nearly every material need is met and surpassed, where nifty gadgets and fast food and shiny cars and easy sex are offered to sate our appetite for toys and instant gratification, why is everyone so damn unhappy, so unfulfilled, so caught up in their own despair? Why do we continue to aspire to wealth and celebrity when the wealthy and famous offer no picture of fulfillment? Why does our being built up as gods require the tearing down of others?
Then he wondered whether the goodness has already poured from the fallen world, and if so then whether the glass is still traveling through the air or whether all is now completely shattered and broken. In such a case it would seem that remnants could be swept up and discarded, useful for no other purpose than causing painful wounds on the heels of the innocent.
Is this too part of the plan of a Creator, and if so can our understanding ever proceed beyond the fact of Mystery? Will the creatures listen to the crashing sounds, if more such warnings are issued out of Mercy? Can the edges of brokenness be smoothed, or even reformed in the great forge of the Master’s will?
The answer came as the chaos of glass and ice and wet gave way to order of broom and towel. If the creature can clean up the broken pieces, save the footpath from danger of injury, and draw something new from the cabinet, the Creator can gather up all that He values – regardless of how broken – and refashion it all anew, simply by will or Word.
This is the work for which Jesus Christ entered the world. This is the continuation of Creation. Our brokenness is the evidence that merit is illusory. God’s goodness and love alone can restore what is broken.