The Pendulum of Life

Following is an excerpt from The Prophet by Kahil Gibran:

 Then a woman said, “Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.” And the prophet answered: Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that hold your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives? When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

Gibran’s prophetic words remind me of a pendulum. A pendulum is defined as a weight hung from a fixed point that swings freely from one side to the other, forwards and backwards. There is a constant tension on the cable between the two opposing sides. I understand the physics of the pendulum but maybe most profoundly in how it functions within the realm of the human spirit. The pendulum is the equalizer of humanity. It is the one thing that rich and poor, black and white, Muslim, Jew, Christian, and Hindu all have in common. We must each cope with the tension of living on the cable of life between sickness and health, hope and despair, life and death. We are no different from our ancestors for millenniums who too knew the joys found in the laughter of a child, the embrace of a lover, the delight of a warm chocolate chip cookie and cup of tea. Nor are we immune today to the tears and grave heartache of loss, the fallibility of our bodies and relationships, and the frightening reality of death. How does one reconcile this tension and find some measure of peace in the unpredictability of the swing?

I believe there is peace to be found on the pendulum. C.S. Lewis said, “joy is the serious business of heaven,” and I would wager that sorrow is the serious business of faith. All is right and good in the world when the pendulum is swinging on the side of joy. We feel strong, confident in this world and our place in it, and seemingly at peace. It is not until we feel the shadows of the pendulum swing towards the opposing side that we look down and experience a frightening bout of spiritual vertigo. Our lives seem to spin out of control, or worse, stop in place. And that is when faith comes into play. We tighten our grip around the pendulum’s weight and we bear down as it swings into the darkness and uncertainty. My husband and I have penned it, “muscling through.” Thomas Merton, my go-to Trappist monk, called it a journeying inside to connect with the Divine.

Let it be said, I am not good with the sorrows of life. I fight them, I weep over them, I even allow doubt to rear its ugly head in response to them. And yet, I have ridden the pendulum or watched others ride the pendulum long enough to know that God remains the constant. You start to understand how to play the game of the pendulum of Life, once you allow your faith to open your eyes to the whole picture. God is not absently watching us swing back and forth. God has been, is now, and will always be on the pendulum with us, riding each swing from joy to sorrow and back again. And that, my friends, removes the power of the pendulum swing over our lives!

Several years ago my mother was visiting a couple from the church. The woman was over ninety and she had recently fallen and was incapacitated in the bed. In my mother’s haste to comfort her, the woman was quick to respond, “Joy only lasts for a while, but so does sorrow.” If you flip back through the pages of your own life, you remember vividly both the chapters of sorrow and joy. It says so much about who we are and the depth of our faith when we have the courage to keep writing our story, through the joys and the sorrows. It is only when we press forward that we make way for the blessings promised ahead. There is not a word written, a breath exhaled, or a tear collected where God is not present. The prayer is always that a day will come when our book here is complete, and we finally see that the story in all of its joys and sorrows was sacred from the start.

Live in Hope,



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