My kids like to listen to a song called “Busybusybusy”. The kids find the rapid delivery funny, but their mother finds the whole thing a little dark. It’s worth a couple minutes of your life.
For those of us in charge of a house and maybe a kid or three, life sometimes seems to boil down to busily shuffling stuff around. I dress the kids, put the kids in the car, buy the groceries, shuttle them home, assemble a meal, wash the dishes and car, then wash and dress the kids for bed. Lather, rinse, repeat.
It’s easy to get stuck on the treadmill of this material world and to forget the Lord’s eternal purpose.
After a spiritually foggy year, I stopped making excuses for why I wasn’t raising my mind up to the Lord and His Word regularly. (I’m too tired, I need to sweep the floor, I can’t decide where to begin, and so on.) I joined an online study group.
Last week, I was dutifully trudging through the Arcana, and as often happens when I dutifully trudge through the Arcana, the Lord had a gem of a passage waiting there for me. I was reading a section explaining Genesis 35.
It’s a lovely moment in the Old Testament: Jacob is returning home after a long time away. He’s worked fourteen years in Haran, and despite setbacks, received blessings of children, possessions, and wealth from the Lord. God appears to him at Bethel, promising him continued success and protection. Jacob builds a stone pillar as a memorial, then pours oil and wine offerings on it.
Arcana Coelestia 4580 explains the meaning of the stones of Jacob’s pillar:
In most ancient times, stones were set up on the boundaries between families of nations…. And as the stones were on the boundaries, when the most ancient people (who in everything on earth saw a corresponding celestial and spiritual thing) saw these stones as boundaries, they thought about the truths which are the ultimates of order.
But their descendants forgot the stones’ meaning and only revered the pillars because it was tradition. Sometimes they worshipped them as idols.
Just as ancient peoples set up pillars as geographic boundaries, we can organize our lives with those “truths in the ultimate of order” they represent–the laws and principles we live by. But like those ancients’ descendants, we can mistake our principles and good habits for gods.
For example, I try to work hard and to be useful. But that “pillar” can become meaningless—even idolatrous—if I turn my daily work into an end in itself. I can get my priorities mixed up, thinking that a vacuumed floor is more important than a peaceful Sunday. If I’m making my sense of productivity more important than others or the Lord, I’ve turned my truth-pillar into an idol.
Busy-ness feels virtuous. If I’m always doing something–moving clothes from the washer to the dryer, wiping the counter, wiping the kid–then I must be making progress in life! But busy-ness by itself is a false virtue–maybe even a disease. Shouldn’t we stop saying, with perhaps a touch of self-importance, “Oh, I’m just so busy” like it’s a badge?
So a passage later in the section of Arcana Coelestia felt especially important:
They who have not previously acquired any idea on these [religious] subjects, for the reason that the cares of the world and of the body have possession of all their thought and take away all desire of knowing anything else…. (4585)
It’s easy for me to go through my day caught up in cares of the world and the demands of several bodies plus mine. But when I plow through my day without recalling why I’m doing it, those tasks take over my thoughts and crowd out higher ones.
I want to remember why I do what I do—why I set up pillars—and avoid the disease of busy.
Jacob’s behavior can instruct mine: he poured oil and wine on the pillar he built as an offering to the Lord. Those offerings represent the process of regeneration–the way we can cooperate with the Lord as He replaces our obedience to truth with a love of obeying His truth (Arcana Coelestia 4582).
We can take the time, occasionally, to dedicate our own pillars—the way we live our lives—to the Lord’s eternal purpose. We can ask Him to fill our days with meaning and give us a love of useful service.
“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:6-8)
The Lord doesn’t want my clean floor, my empty inbox, or my sense of productivity. Whatever I’m doing, I can do it justly and kindly, offering it up humbly.