Telescopes and Toothbrushes


As many of you know, about 11 years ago, I spent a good part of a summer in the hospital because of a fall when I injured both my wrist and my foot. I can remember distinctly during that time in my reading, coming across this passage in 2nd Corinthians:

So we do not lose heart.Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

And so as I was lying there day after day with an immobile leg and arm, I can remember taking great comfort in these words, “slight momentary affliction.”  You see that time felt so surreal — you are so immobile — so unable to participate in daily life. Your troubles consume you, and your life becomes very small, very focused.  

Your supposed “real life” on the other hand, like my law practice, my family, everything from court hearings to church functions to swim meets, all kept going on beyond that hospital door. My actual life became a time of surgeries and waiting, waiting for results, waiting for healing, waiting for the next phase of my life. My very life itself had become immobile.  

Immobility by affliction can be caused by things other than physical injuries or illness and hospital stays. We all know affliction, and there are lots of ways that a life can come to a stop. When we are immobile in our affliction, we seem to have a lot of time to think. We dwell upon what we have done in the past and we begin to wonder about our future.  

And so it is especially during these times that we need to hear or remember these words--that we need to look to things unseen, that we need to look to things eternal. In other words we are looking for a heavenly perspective. Where our focus lifts off of ourselves, and realigns with heaven. And so it is invariably during this time that we turn to that important question — what is God’s will in my life.

I talk to a lot of people who are wondering about what the will of God is in their life, and in these discussions, we usually come to the point where we begin to see that for most people, this is a daily endeavor. And actually this applies to everyone who is living a life of faith, waiting for the next phase of life, or otherwise looking for the will of God.  We come to realize that we have to take each day as it comes, and that we have to wait on God’s timing, that all of our dreams, as well as our problems and our afflictions will not be solved or resolved immediately. And so in the meantime, we who are looking for the will of God, what are we to do?  

I once came across a little saying of Dr. William Beebe, a naturalist and philosopher.  Dr. Beebe was born in NYC. In 1899, after attending college, he became an assistant curate at what would later become the Bronx Zoo. He soon became an expert in ornithology, the study of birds. 

Dr. Beebe led many expeditions in his life, and perhaps one of his most notable adventures was that he was the first man to go down in a diving sphere to see deep sea animal life in their natural environment. He was a remarkable man and worked well into his 80’s. He was fascinated by creation and is considered by many to be the father of ecology. He was also a Christian and worshiped in the Presbyterian faith.  

The saying of his that I came across reflected both his life work as a scientist and his Christian faith. He wrote:  As a panacea for a host of human ills, worries and fears, I should like to advocate a law that every toothbrush should have a small telescope in its handle, and the two used equally.

I love that and I totally agree! We all should have toothbrushes with telescopes in the handle. When you look through a telescope, you are able to look at the vastness of heavens and the beauty of stars and galaxies. Using even a small telescope, you can see a star 3 billion light years away. That means that the twinkle from the light of that star that you see today actually left that star 3 billion light years ago! Amazing!  

On the other hand we all have toothbrushes. They are part of the “shoulds” of our life.  As in we should do this, and we should do that. And of course we all should brush out teeth, morning and night.

And so I think the “shoulds”, of our life, the daily tasks of our life need to be peppered with occasional, at least daily, glances to heaven, to give us perspective, to remind us that the afflictions of our lives, and the humdrum of our lives, the everyday tasks of our lives on this earth, do not soley define us. We need our daily expeditions with our telescopes to remind us of our place in the greater reality as children of God, as the beloved of God. 

Jesus lived his life completely in the will of God. He lived a day at a time where God was his daily bread. And so Jesus lived each moment of each day completely and fully, always doing the next right thing. 

He took each moment as it came. If a person came for healing, he addressed it. If the Pharisee came to question him, he would spend the day in debates. When the large crowds found him, he would preach and teach. He fed them when they needed feeding. He preached to them when they needed preaching. He healed them when they needed healing. He was flexible in his daily life, fully focused on the task at hand.  

Taking time to pray in desolate places, even if it meant that his prayer time was in the middle of the night. 

And he was a king—but of a different kind—of a heavenly sort.  So he never tried to amass wealth. He never tried to assemble an army. He was not concerned with how the temple ran, or the making of laws or politics. He was always among the people, living with the people, eating with the people, going to synagogue with the people, doing his work. And he was completely accessible (if you could get through the crowds). But even if you did not, he knew you were there. Even if you were a blind man on the side of the road, a tax collector up a tree, or a woman creeping up behind to touch the edge of his cloak for healing.  

And I therefore learned by experience that it is during these times of immobility by affliction, that we come to truly understand that God is always with us (at times his presence was almost palpable).  

But it is also during this time that we can grow to learn, to really understand, what it means to have a heavenly perspective. 

Jesus lived in this world day by day with his eyes and heart always focused on the will of his father.  And as his brothers and sisters, that is his hope for us, all as we pursue our dreams and as we deal with our afflictions.   

So take out your toothbrush and start another day. But don’t forget to flip it over and look to the heavens before you walk out the door.

The Rev. Robin Hinkle is the rector of St. Mary's Episcopal Church.