Ecce Quam Bonum: Happy New School Year

(What follows is a devotion I gave this morning at the beginning of Faculty Forum at The Westminster Schools)


Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For God’s people to dwell together in unity!  (Psalm 133)
          I have been studiously avoiding the news recently.  Adjusting to a new job has helped give me a decent cover story for neglecting the newspaper, the news websites, and the TV news—I’ve been just too busy.  “It been crazy around here,” I’d say, “…so much to do and so little time.”  I might even swear to the impossibility of paying attention to anything outside Westminster’s zip code.  “I have to get ready, you see, the beginning of the school year will be here in a second and I don’t have a second to spare.”
          This approach would not stand up to scrutiny, however, so today’s devotion is as much of a confession as thought for the day.  The truth is that making the move to a new school over the summer provided a tremendous amount of time to reflect on, or pay attention to anything I wanted.  I could have become a current event expert.  Staying at the Homewood Suites until the house was ready and while my wife and daughter wiled away the summer at her parent’s lake place in Tennessee, I had plenty of time.  I did make use of it.  I read a lot…and I rarely missed Sports Center.
           Here is the truth, I didn’t have the stomach for much of the news this summer, so I let myself off the hook and just avoided it.  In the world we live in, however, avoiding the news is an almost impossible task.  Some hotel elf in the middle of the night would put a USA Today outside my door, and even though that paper has less information in it than an average post-it note can hold, it still pointed toward a world with its seams apparently pulling.  On XM radio on my way down the dial to the “Outlaw Country” station or “The Loft” or “Deep Cuts,” I would delay a bit too long on the CNN channel.
          …And even this week, without knowing exactly how it slipped into my consciousness (because I am really busy now!) I have been hearing about the stock market, Syria, Somalia, and London.  Even the small doses of these stories make my legs feel heavy and make gravity seem like an oppressive force, one that is somehow gaining in its strength as humans pull from each other in stunning and remarkable ways.
          As I think about the troubling momentum of our recent headlines, the work of the psalmist came to mind for me, and in Psalm 133, I stumbled back upon a thought is certainly relevant and might perhaps be helpful.  It at least might help me keep my priorities more straight as we make the run into the school year.
 1 Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For God’s people to dwell together in unity!2 It is like the precious oil upon the head,
Running down on the beard,
The beard of Aaron,
Running down on the edge of his garments.
3 It is like the dew of Hermon,
Descending upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the LORD commanded the blessing—
Life forevermore.
          I was familiar with the first line—”Behold how good and pleasant it is/for God’s people to dwell together in unity”—as its first three words, Ecce Quam Bonum, provide the Latin motto of my undergraduate school, and it has become a habit of some of my Sewanee friends to sign emails to other graduates with the letters EQB.  What interested me when I spotted it earlier this week is the rest of the psalm, however, in which we find the idea that God’s people dwelling in unity is “like” an ordination.  Dwelling in unity is like the oil running down Aaron’s beard, and such oil was used in ordination ceremonies and marked the newly ordained as closer to God.  In other words when we dwell together in unity we are closer to God, we are closer to the eternal.
          In the next verse, the psalmist amplifies the point.  Here the dwelling together in unity is like the “dew” that “descends” from the highest mountain to the lesser peaks, connecting them upward toward God.  I find this fascinating as it points out that coming together and working to find connection is a gift from God.
           Placed in relief by the frightening events from which I have recently averted my eyes, Psalm 133 reveals that we have a rare opportunity in this place and in this school, and rather than warn you against the dangers of squandering the opportunity, I would like for us to think about how we might strengthen the ties that bind us, and use that strength to serve and to lead students so that they might serve and lead beyond Adam’s Gate.  I do not know the future, but I think I do know that, whatever way it tilts and spins in the days, months and years ahead, the world will need such people as this place strives to graduate.  It will need them not only to meet the world’s gaze but also to engage it with empathy, determination, and integrity.
          So… this morning I offer a happy new school year toast… “Behold how good and pleasant it is for God’s people to dwell together in unity.”  Ecce Quam Bonum.

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