19 December 2010

New Heavens and New Earth

It is, I suppose, merely a sign of increasing age that I have become (a little :-)) less idealistic.  A sometime-reader of this blog will remember the enthusiasm with which, twenty-five or so years ago, I told him of my plans to build "the world's best short-wave receiver."  I have thought of my own tendency towards perfectionism - which has very often worked against any actual tendency in me toward perfection - as my inclination to building yet another "world's best receiver."

I'm not really cured of the disease of perfectionism.  Every time I start something, I have to fight the tendency to be sidetracked into WBR syndrome.  "If I am going to finish my Yapese dictionary, I really need to get all the words in the Yapese Bible in.  Oh, but then I'll have index them to the context they are a part of.  But in that case..."  I must keep in mind Chesterton's (What's Wrong With the World): "If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly."

We must work.  We must do what we can.  Yet all our efforts are imperfect - and at the end, all that we do will fade - like the grass of the field that withers.  All is vanity.

And yet ... it is not so.  The same Bible tells us (I Cor 15:58) "...your labour is not in vain in the Lord."

It is a mystery to me what "new heavens and new earth" can be - yet somehow I think that what we do - especially what we do with love here in the old earth under the old heavens - may be re-presented to us one day, perfected and shown in real beauty.  Will it be rather like being a pupil of a great master artist?  We will listen to him, make our attempts at drawing something beautiful - our frustration always there are our inability to do perfectly what we want, yet knowing that we are trying - and then - perhaps? - he will take it, change a line here, a colour there - and let us see what we were aiming at all along?

Today at Mass - the Fourth Sunday in Advent - I felt, somehow, that the Lord was with me - that even now, in the old earth and under the old heavens, He is encouraging me to try, to do my best, knowing that it can never be good enough - but knowing that the end of all my starts and uncertain attempts will be to be renewed - to be made, after all, what I had always wanted them to be.

May it be so.


John from Canada said...

Some thoughts on the same topic.

I suspect that the quality of our work, even our best work, often looks to the Lord as the work (even the best work) of a child of 5 looks to his parents. If so, perfectionism is an illusion: a child of 5 no more could paint the Mona Lisa than we could do something truly perfect. If that's right, then perfectionism can be a very bad thing. The better becomes the enemy of the good: we pass up the opportunity for good in the vain hopes of better, and in the end, do nothing.

One way around this might be to recognize that a quick job now can often be redone later, better. So a Yapese dictionary can go ahead even if there are words in the Yapese bible not yet in it: a partial dictionary is better than none, and it is as easy or easier to complete a partial dictionary as it is to start from scratch.

John Thayer Jensen said...

@John from Canada:

a quick job now can often be redone later.

So ... ""If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly."