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Sun, Oct 26, 2014 01:05 PM
Issue of October 22, 2014

A hope note
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A hope note
Dr. Wayne Willis reflects on life and hope.

'Absorb the universe'

March 19, 2014 | 10:04 AM

Yale theologian George Lindbeck coined the intriguing phrase "absorb the universe." I resisted it at first because it sounded so grandiose and ridiculous, but it has grown on me. Now, I commend it to you.

Everything — nature, history, philosophy, theology, literature, life — is so overwhelming that we have to reduce it, simplify it, condense it down to something usable. For many of us, that means boiling it down to a few sentences or stories that sum up the essence and meaning of things for us. This is how we "absorb the universe."

I offer one example.

A friend was going through the hardest time of his life. He had flown to New York City to appear before a committee to be examined for a certification that he had spent years and a small fortune seeking, and they turned him down. Rejected and humiliated, he felt like the world's biggest loser. He spent 48 hours walking the streets of Manhattan, distraught over what he was going to do.

Many years later, nearing the end of a successful career, as he told me this story, he said that one thing back then kept him from jumping off a bridge. It was a verse that his high school English teacher made him memorize, sentences from William Ernest Henley's "Invictus": "It matters not how strait the gate / how charged with punishments the scroll / I am the master of my fate / I am the captain of my soul." He muttered that sentence hundreds of times as he slouched up and down the island of Manhattan processing his failure and questioning whether he would go home or had a future.

I hope you have a strong default sentence or two to fall back on — to absorb your universe — when the going gets toughest.

Dr. Wayne Willis


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