By FATHER PAUL KEENAN
February is a month that can leave us wondering who we are, precisely. We are in the New Year but midway through winter, still far from spring’s reprieve. February is the month of the middle, and to some of us it may seem like the month of the muddle.
There is something to be said for the middle, though. The midpoint of a journey shows us the distance we have already successfully achieved and hints at what is to come. When I was a child, my grandmother and aunt used to visit us every other weekend. I loved their visits, and I was always sad when they left. On one such occasion, my father noted my sadness and said to me, “You know, if we didn’t part, we’d never meet again.” That’s the splendor of the middle—it captures what has been and anticipates what is still to come. In the middle, you can have your cake and eat it, too.
The reason for this is that the middle is the perfect case of the whole being more than the sum of its parts. It is not the past plus the future, exactly. It is something more, a kind of metaphysical balloon that lifts us up beyond the past and the present and somehow into the transcendent heart of both. Robert Frost reflected that “We all sit around in a ring and suppose. But the secret sits in the middle and knows.” In an argument, both sides claim that they really know what the object of their disagreement is. Often enough, we find that the truth lies somewhere in between the two positions, and it takes a sage with higher wisdom and perspicacity to discern it.
Jesus knew what to do with the middle. How often in the gospels do we see him sitting in the midst of a crowd or in a boat with a throng on the shore surrounding him? Physically, as well as spiritually, he was so often in the position of “the secret (who) sits in the middle and knows.” Much of his earthly life was lived from the perspective of one who sat in the middle between so-called “proven truth” and the full achievement of new insight. Every parable he preached was like a boat that was meant to take the passenger from a familiar shore to a new and unfamiliar one. Today we associate a man in the middle with a man who vacillates and never owns a truth. Jesus, our man in the middle, proved that the middle was instead the place to meet the truth. “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Is it any wonder that he is the middle person of the Trinity—the meeting place between Being and Love? We are often discontent in February because we are unhappy with being in the middle.
Yet in life, the middle is precisely where we are. We have left the womb and we are not yet to eternal life. We are in the middle and it can sometimes feel uncomfortable. Yet any place on earth we call “home” is a mid-place, and it feels like home precisely because it is where we are grounded. At one and the same moment, it takes us from where we have been, prepares us for where we are going, and centers us in that midpoint. That is why Jesus said, “Make your home in me as I make mine in you.” He is the middle as well as the beginning and the end of our journey and he does not make us wait for eternity to feel at home.
February, the month of the middle, is a glorious place to be. Embracing February allows us to embrace our status as pilgrims who are on a journey to a definite place and who find a home in being so.