March 22, 2022

From The Rector…

My first introduction to a bell curve was as a measure of IQ in grade school. Since then, I have seen bell curves for all sorts of things—business production, church attendance, high school graduation rates, historical events—you name it and someone can put it on a bell curve. The standard bell curve starts at a baseline, curves upward, and then returns to baseline. The presumption behind it is that it measures progress and decline. You want to find yourself somewhere to the left of the curve moving upward. If you find yourself on the right side of the curve and in decline, that is a sign that you need to make an adjustment in order to move upward again.  

Inherent in the design of the curve is that all things have a life span—all things can make progress but at some point, will begin to decline. There are newer models that have other arrows branching off from the left side of the upward curve, modeling an approach to success that is only achievement oriented and never faces decline. The assumption behind these newer models is that you make an adjustment when things are going well before you ever see decline in order to continue to achieve and be successful.

The bell curve is a staple in how we think in the modern world—or at least in North Atlantic countries. I am not sure that this model and especially the newer “offshoot” model is helpful in our understanding of risk and error, sets unreasonable expectations for sustainability, and is grounded in a faulty premise . To descend in this model is less than ideal. Instead, it is a sign of failure and I’m not sure that is always true.

The medieval mystics understood the path of the divine as an upside-down bell curve. God was in Heaven and descended to Earth before ascending back into Heaven. This is the flow of the divine’s relationship with us on a macrocosmic scale. It is reflected in a microcosmic way in various stories of the Bible. In the story of Jonah and the Whale, Jonah is thrown overboard, swallowed by a whale at the bottom of the sea, and then vomited up on the shore. Moses leads his people down into the Red Sea and then up the other side. Jesus is raised on a cross, descends into Hell, and after three days is resurrected. You get the idea.  

The divine trajectory over the great timeline of human events is an upside-down bell curve and God meets us at the lowest point. I wonder if this is why we seem to have a greater awareness of God in our sufferings than in our joys. It is not that God is not always with us, but when we are suffering or afraid, we typically descend into ourselves—retreating from the world and all that distracts us. We literally begin to curve our shoulders downward, lower our chin, send our gaze to the ground. Our very physical self seems to melt downward as we descend into our pain and suffering. It is in those times that we most connect with God because he too has made this descent with us and for us.

An addict will tell you that one must hit rock bottom before they can ever begin the true work of recovery. It is not until an addict can verbalize their own true powerlessness that they can begin to heal to come up out of the darkness and into the light. When it comes to living as a Christian, we aren’t too far removed from this line of thinking. It is not until we are willing to admit our own powerlessness and embrace Jesus Christ as the ultimate power in our lives that we can begin to climb the inverted bell curve into new life.

Maybe “The Dude” had it right—life is like a bowling alley, and we are the bowling balls. We roll through life with hits and misses, finding ourselves descending into darkness, and then being spit back up into the light to try again. I like this model a little better as it seems to allow for my mistakes and the grace of renewal, of starting over, of second chances.  

Light and Life,