Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thankful For The Cornerstone

When I moved to Chicago in 1985, I started attending school at Holy Name Cathedral.  I was in fifth grade.  Each day for recess, we lined up in our maroon and gray plaid uniforms and walked in a line, in pairs, across State Street to an empty parking lot.  We were allowed to bring bouncy balls and jump ropes.  There were no slides or gyms or swings; just a tall cement wall (the side of a building) against which we would throw the balls.  Mostly, we just stood around talking and shivering in the winter cold.  

One day, as we walked out for recess, after we had learned in our social studies book about capstones, or cornerstones, our teacher pointed out the cornerstone on the side of the building, which had originally been set in 1852 (and then re-set/dedicated in 1957, see above).  I was fascinated by the idea of a cornerstone -- that every other stone or brick set for a particular building would be set with the cornerstone as the reference point.  I wondered about what happened if the cornerstone was mis-placed, or crooked, or not strong enough, or displaced.  And I wondered how the builder or architect knew exactly where the cornerstone was supposed to go, or whether the foundation on which it was placed would hold.  Or, what if the builder chose the wrong stone to be the cornerstone?  After the building was built, could you replace the cornerstone?   Probably not if it holds the whole building together.  If the cornerstone was displaced, would the entire building fall immediately, just crumble to the ground?  And if that was the case, shouldn't the cornerstone be protected so that cars don't run into it or people don't take a hammer to it?  The cornerstone on the church seemed so vulnerable.  There it was, the only piece with a date and a dedication.  Everyone would see it.  Anyone could hurt it.  Might be best to build a barrier around it, just in case.

Last week, I read Psalm 118, and in particular, the verse that says "The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone."  (v. 22)  I had read this before, but this time, all the memories about the cornerstone at Holy Name Cathedral came to mind -- seeing the writing, wondering if the weight of the whole building really rested on that one stone, thinking about what would happen if that cornerstone were damaged or removed.  I thought about all the cornerstones I have had in my life and how I have replaced each of them over time, continuing to search for the one that holds, none of them up to the task.  You know, those things in different phases of your life that all else is held in reference to.  Every stone of your building (your life) is set in reference to that one thing, the cornerstone.

For a period of time in high school, my cornerstone was Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.  I planned my days around the time of games; I finished dinner quickly, got my homework done, and then got in my "lucky" position to watch the game.  My mood changed if they lost, I felt despondent and disappointed.  If they won, I felt like I'd done something great and it carried me through difficult days at school.  The winning feelings at the end of a season in which the Bulls won a championship carried me through entire summers, and then right into college.  But then, MJ retired and the magic ended.  The cornerstone faltered, was removed, was damaged.  My building started to crumble, or at least feel unsteady, without a reference point.

In college, I met the man who would become my husband.  And he, then our relationship, became my cornerstone.  Everything I did referred back to him or our relationship.  Then I went to law school and my cornerstone changed again.  I studied, wrote outlines, debated the rule of law and justice, took the bar exam.  Then I had my daughter and all else paled in comparison.  A new cornerstone.  A new reference point.  I was a mother, a new identity bestowed.  Then I started at an intense, international, high-achieving law firm.  A new cornerstone.  On and on.

I am not proud of what appears to be such schizophrenic life-building.   But, what it reveals is the searching I have done, and the searching we all do, for the right reference point -- the cornerstone that we can truly rely upon to be steady, strong enough, up to the task, dedicated from the beginning and enduring until the end.

I am so thankful for so many people in my life, so many experiences.  God has blessed me in ways that I cannot comprehend or even begin to find words with which to thank him.  But what I am most thankful for is that I have identified my true cornerstone, my true reference point.  The stone according to which all decisions are made, according to which every other stone is set.  The stone that allows me to be a mother, a daughter, a sister, a lover, a servant.  "For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says, 'The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.'"  (Acts 4:11)

I didn't know in fifth grade why the idea of the cornerstone had such an impact on me, or that I would spend the next 25 years searching for my cornerstone.  Now that I know, now that I have no concern about whether my cornerstone will hold up, I can be nothing but grateful.

As my thanksgiving this year, I will shout:  

"The stone that the builders rejected
has now become the cornerstone.
This is the Lord's doing,
and it is wonderful to see.
This is the day the Lord has made.
[I] will rejoice and be glad in it.
Please, Lord, please save [me].
Please, Lord, please give [me] success.
Bless the one who comes in the
name of the Lord.
[I] bless you from the house of
the Lord.
The Lord is God, shining upon [me].
Take the sacrifice and bind it with
cords on the altar.
You are my God, and I will
praise you!
You are my God, and I will
exalt you!
Give thanks to the Lord, for
he is good!
His faithful love endures forever."

(Psalm 118:22-29)


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