Tuesday 4 June 2024

The Power of Mist

For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
—James 3:16-18

At the most recent meeting of the ICS Board of Trustees, Board Chair Dan Beerens opened the meeting with a reflection on a passage from the letter of James. It was not the passage cited above, but one that comes later, where James admonishes those arrogant enough to think they can determine their own futures: “Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14)

What I found intriguing about Dan’s reflection is how he quickly moved past the admonishment, and proceeded to take James’s claim that human life is but mist seriously and positively, asking the question: Does mist matter? Would we perceive our lives differently, less arrogantly, if we took the misty nature of our existence more seriously?

In Zero at the Bone: Fifty Entries Against Despair, the poet Christian Wiman moves in a similar direction when he considers the fragility and isolation of human lives considered apart from their relationships: “Selves are nothing but memories of selves, and memories but the wispy entities that time and mind have conspired to keep. It’s a wonder we don’t walk through each other like ghosts.” (p. 75)

Why don’t we walk through each other? Maybe we do sometimes? I know that so often in our rapidly polarizing world we too easily look past each other. James’ letter has a lesson to teach us here, too. The letter urges us to turn from our “selfish ambition” and “boastful confidence”—our navel-gazing obduracy—to a wisdom from above that is, in stark contrast, gentle and willing to yield.

Which puts me back in mind of mist, and Dan’s question, “does mist matter?” It seems to me that mist only matters once it realizes that it is mist. Mist only matters when it realizes that, in and through its wispy, fleeting existence, it nevertheless has the power to condense on the porous surfaces of the cold creatures surrounding it and be transformed into life-giving water.

The good news here is that we are this mist, and when we turn from ourselves toward others with mercy and good fruit, we experience that wonderful condensation that transforms our very being precisely because we have responded to someone’s need. “And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.”

Shalom, friends!

Ron Kuipers