August 30, 2013

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

God makes the history of our lives rhyme

Sean GallagherMark Twain reportedly once said that “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” I recently experienced the meaning of this saying in a touching way.

Late last month, I took a quick trip to South Carolina with my parents to visit my sister, Kelly, and her family. We went there primarily to see Kelly and her daughter, Anna, perform in the opening night of a community theater production of the musical Annie.

Here’s where history starts to rhyme. My niece Anna is 8. I was her age when my parents took me and Kelly in the late 1970s to see a touring production of the same musical at Clowes Hall in Indianapolis. It was the first play I ever saw, and I was enchanted by it. My memories of it 35 years later are still sharp.

It was just a few years later that Kelly and I were both in a high school production of the musical The King and I. Kelly was a senior at the time and played the lead women’s role of Anna Leonowens. I was in the sixth grade and played a royal child—and had to wear makeup from head to toe to make it look like I was from Thailand. The musical takes place in the 1860s in that southeastern Asian country.

Seeing Annie at age 8 introduced me to the theater, and it’s enriched my life ever since, even if I haven’t been on stage myself for many years. I don’t know if Anna will take to it like I did, but I hope that at least her first foray as a thespian will bring her many sweet memories.

Seeing how the history of my life “rhymed” with the history of the life of my sweet 8-year-old niece made the whirlwind trip an emotional one for me. It made me appreciate somehow in a very tangible and deep way being an uncle to Anna and her brother, Gavin, and, even more so, being a father to my own four sons and the child who we expect to welcome into the world next month.

Now it may seem strange that I would need an experience like this to appreciate being an uncle and a father. Those relationships are at the core of who I am. In theory, I shouldn’t need a stage play to make me appreciate their importance.

But sometimes I, like so many other people, can get caught up in my own affairs that I think are so much more important than anything else. Perhaps seeing how history rhymes in my life and the life of my niece was a vivid reminder to me of what is truly important.

As a believer, I see God’s providence at work in the rhyming of history. He doesn’t control human history in advance like a puppeteer since he respects our human freedom. But as the sad suffering, death and resurrection of his Son shows us, God can use even the worst that we humans can do to accomplish his will.

In order to appreciate and learn from the way that God makes history rhyme in our lives, we need to regularly reflect on our past and not let it gather dust in the far recesses of our minds. When we know well what has happened in previous years, we can see more clearly what God is doing in our lives here and now.

And our reflection upon the past shouldn’t just be limited to our own lives. God sometimes makes the history of our lives rhyme with the history of his people, the life on Earth of his Son and the first years of the Church that we read about in the Bible. How rich our daily lives can become when we hear echoes in it of what occurred so long ago and far away in the crucial years of salvation history.

Yes, history isn’t just a class we had and perhaps dreaded in high school. It should deepen our lives of faith and make our ordinary days rhyme like epic poetry. †

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