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All That Is Fair: Sacred Sense and Sensibility


Long before any of us were born, Jane Austen penned the novel Sense and Sensibility.  It follows the lives of two sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood.  In personality, they are polar opposites.  Elinor is stoic and reserved, always operating under the governance of good “sense” and reason.  Marianne is lively and expressive, often causing herself unnecessary turmoil due to her overactive “sensibility.”  Through the circumstances of the book the two sisters come to understand that rather than being at odds, they actually need one another because of their differences. 

Why should you care?  That’s a good question.  It’s a pretty boring read for most 21st century humans.  The language is archaic and excessively wordy, and the subject matter is closely akin to a gossip column.  Now, even though these things are true, I will go ahead and out myself and admit that I do love Jane Austen.  She has a charming way of pointing out a profound truth concerning culture, government, the church, or humans in general, by weaving it into mundane scenarios rather than blurting it out in bland platitudes.  It’s really subtle, but when it hits you, it hits deep.  More than my praises of Austen, the reason I think you should care about Sense and Sensibility is that it contains a meta narrative which pertains to all of us.  It points to a core struggle. 

Here’s what I mean.  We have within us Elinor AND Marianne.  The head AND the heart.  Rationalism AND emotionalism.  Or to put it in a more current context, we are both Elsa AND Anna.  All of us are blessed (or cursed) with these faculties of heart and mind.  And we all exist on a spectrum between the two.  Most of us value one more than the other and are better practiced at working under the influence of one more than the other. 

This is something most of you already know.  It is a theme that keeps coming back to me the older I get.  Balance.  The stories about these two diametrically opposed heroines still speak to us because they point out a need for balance.  How can we, truncated though we are, begin to approximate a balance between our heads and our hearts?  And how can that balance lead us into truly appreciating the profound diversity of the image-bearing human race that surrounds us?

I can’t say that I know how to achieve this equilibrium.  Nor do I have any insight into the mechanism God uses to get us there.  But I can say that by observing your world, you can begin to capture tiny insights that lead you in the right direction.  Jane Austen books for one!  And silly kids movies like Frozen or Inside Out.  The soul cry for balance is also extensively present in music. Like when Chris Martin sings “the tight rope that I’m walking just sways and ties…” or Johnny Cash sings “I keep a close watch on the heart of mine; I keep my eyes wide open all the time; I keep the ends out for the tie that binds; because you’re mine, I walk the line.”  It’s everywhere.  This message that declares, “I’m fighting hard to stay upright, to show the best of myself, though I’m pulled in either direction.”

This is the journey on which I find myself.  I can see how my head has been vetoed by the strength of my heart time and time again.  It has pushed me off the tightrope many times.  Those two organs of mine just won’t agree on much.  It’s easier for me to tell myself, “James, you’re a feeler, That’s just who you are,” than it is to examine how my mind and my emotions might actually complement one another within this unique image of God that is me.  Elinor and Marianne needed one another.  Elsa and Anna needed one another.  And for both of these, learning to appreciate the other was a tumultuous journey that taught each of them about themselves.  When they finally learned to be vulnerable and embrace their opposite, they discovered that they could then branch out into the world with confidence and certainty of purpose.  They could express grace because they had finally experienced it. 

So as you walk through your life this month, pay attention to the signs all around you.  Camp out in front of the subtle guideposts that are trying gently to lead you to take self-inventory.  These tiny insights are all around us because God in his inexhaustible creativity and boundless mercy has put them within reach, even if they are sometimes found in boring old books!  Our role is to listen and respond.  To be honest and strive with every fiber toward becoming more fully human, knowing that it is God who “works in us.”  For our Heavenly Father wants us to make friends with the person we see in the mirror. He made us that way on purpose.  The image of God in you desperately needs to experience the grace of mending that bridge between your head and heart.  Then you’ll be able to fling that grace out into the broader world with certainty of purpose and profound love for others.