CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter
George Spangler called me the other day. I had not talked to George in almost fifty years. He and his wife and Helen and I were young married couples together at the end of our university days. We had a lot of fun together, and when their first baby was born, Helen and I enjoyed Vicky almost as much as if she had been our own. We lost contact after college days, though.
George had been reminded of those days because he had seen in our alumni magazine a notice of a book I had written. He got my telephone number and called. It was great. We caught each other up on the major events in our lives over the past forty-five years or so, and, of course, we talked about the old days, when all those events were still in the future.
One of the things we had done in those long-ago days was play darts. George had hung a dart board on the back of the door into their married student housing apartment. Whenever Helen and I were at their apartment, to share one of those cheap meals students learn to cook, and to play with Vicky, George and I would throw darts.
George laughed and said, “When we moved out, I took that dartboard off the door, and there were little holes all over those concrete block walls around the door.”
Then he said, “I was the source of most of them, of course.”
I was sure he was right. I never missed a dartboard in those youthful days. I recall so well the first time we threw darts in their apartment. I hit three bulls-eyes in a row, and George exulted, “I told you John would be good at this.”
That had pleased me. I knew I had great eye-hand coordination, but there was no reason for George to know it. But my friend had assumed I would be good at something; that was neat.
He would be well advised these days, though, should I go to visit him, to hang his dartboard outdoors, on a tree he doesn’t like much. I can still hit the bulls-eye, sort of, just as I can still put the basketball through the hoop, sort of, but not with the near perfection I used to show.
I used to be so good at things that took eye/hand and ear/mouth coordination. In addition to hitting the bulls-eye or the basketball hoop or the baseball, I always could hear a sound and reproduce it. When I entered Perkins School of Theology, at SMU, they gave the new students a sound test. I thought they were just checking our hearing. Three of us, though, only three, tested so high that the faculty decided we should start Greek and Hebrew language study at the same time, and then one day a week get everything the English Bible students got in a whole week. There were days I cursed my keen ear!
Still, I was always proud of being able to hit the bulls-eye, with hand or ear.
Now, though, in old age, those skills have left me. I don’t know where they have gone, but I know they are no longer in my hand or ear. It bothers me a little bit. We don’t like to lose the skills of youth, those of which we were so proud.
There is a skill, though, that can get better as we age. It is called wisdom. It is the current skill that allows me to say: The only thing that counts is love.
There! I hit the bulls-eye again.