Wednesday, March 07, 2012


An old hymn encourages us “to do…the useful and the great, the thing that never dies, the silent toil that is not lost.” I was thinking of this yesterday after I had a short but superb conversation with some students after class. We only talked for a few minutes, and our conversation covered relatively inconsequential topics, but nonetheless, I believe we did a “useful and great thing” together. It was a just a quick conversation as class was dismissing, yet, in another sense, it was an event of genuine significance. I guess the point of the old hymn is that anything we do can be “useful and great”, and that even our smallest activity “never dies” but extends its importance in immeasurable ways, far into the future and out to the vastness of the universe. No one paid attention to us as we spoke beside the whiteboard, and certainly no lives were substantially transformed by what we said, but still, the words we spoke had – and are still having – their inestimable effects. Like a stone dropped into a limitless sea, every particular action we perform, even the “silent toil” that no one else notices, sends ripples out into the vast reaches of the cosmos. Our lives were reshaped by our conversation – perhaps only in small, unnoticeable ways, but reshaped nevertheless. We sent out a ripple “that never dies” into the sea of existence, and we can only imagine what its numberless consequences will be as the years and decades pass.

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