Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pivot Point

It is only half the story to say that the power of books is through their doorway to the Great Conversation with the past. The real impact will only be seen in what we have to say to the future.

It takes faith to talk to the future. We don’t know that there even will be one. Yet, from one devastating epoch in treacherous history to another, there have thankfully been those who have had the faith that time would still move on—that there would be someone at the receiving end to talk to.

From one of those tumultuous past eras comes a vignette I’ve often pondered. It is from the life of Jane Lucretia D’Esterre. One of those stories that you just have to stumble upon, hers was one I found deep in the middle of a book I was reading about something else.

How can any romantic resist the pathos of a story that begins, “Jane Lucretia first heard of the duel that shattered her life when friends carried her dying husband into the house.”

There is every reason to be gripped by the story. The young woman—vivacious, talented, beautiful—is just the one to win hearts. Married to a man with a promising political future, she is the mother of two young children. Circumstances, however, rip her away from the contentedness of the good life.

“The year was 1815, the time of Wellington’s victory over Napoleon at Waterloo. Dueling was still legal....”

“Devastated” was not an adequate word to describe this woman’s reaction to events. She fled her country to the north, finding safe haven physically, but not emotionally. Her tragedy brings her to the brink of attempting suicide. But for what might have seemed mere happenstance, she would have taken that step. Somehow, she snapped back to her senses, returned home, and resumed life.

Life, though, was now different. She had found the Lord. Things didn’t change immediately, but in that imperceptible way that it often does, healing took place. A few years later, she met and married a man whose surname many will recognize: Captain John Grattan Guinness, youngest son of Dublin brewer Arthur Guinness.

The story isn’t yet over. In the telling of it by her great-great-grandson Os Guinness in his book, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life, he describes her as “unusual for several reasons.” He explains that she “conscientiously prayed for her descendants down through a dozen generations.”

But Dr. Guinness is only her great-great-grandson. That means there are eight generations still to come. Her prayer is yet to be fully answered. That’s the measure of one woman’s faith.

The trajectory of my faith—or yours—may not be as remarkable. After all, these are tumultuous times. There is one thing to keep in mind, however: the beginning of the trajectory marked the pivot point from past to future. It takes a decisive action to turn our attention from our heritage—receiving it, benefiting from it, enjoying it—to our legacy. It takes work to pass something on.

We are the pivot points between the turbulence of the past and the possibilities of the future. We carry the faith forward when our actions show our trust that our work will bring some good to light for those yet to come.

It takes faith to believe in a future. But if we don’t work for that future, too, our trajectory will be very short, indeed. While faith without works may be dead, works without faith are near impossible. As much as those of the past have spoken to us in the Great Conversation of our heritage, we need to speak to those who are yet to come.

I had read this book almost a year ago, and first shared these thoughts on another blog. While thinking about the family research I'm traveling to do this week, I was reminded once again that we must not only remember the past, but be mindful that we are also doing this research for our future.

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