Pentecost 46

Pentecost 46
My Psalm 46

Blowing in the Wind

It sounds like the name of an oil additive for one’s car engine – OXTR. It is, however, a much-sought-after gene that might just explain how two people growing up in the same house with the same parents under the same rule can turn out so differently.

For years, people would answer “You either get it or you don’t.” In his book “Bound for Glory”, Woody Guthrie compared his political opinions to the newspapers blowing on New York City streets and in the alleys. On an April evening in 1962 at a music venue in the West Village of New York City, a young singer sang a song of two verses. He borrowed melodic lines from a Canadian slave spiritual and rewrote lines from Ezekiel 12:1–2: “The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Oh mortal, you dwell among the rebellious breed. They have eyes to see but see not; ears to hear, but hear not.” In defending the song’s title, the singer composer Bob Dylan would later say that the song’s meaning was “blowin’ in the wind” and that one either understood that and what it meant or one did not. He also spoke not only understanding the meaning but using it as a call to action, the call each of us should but often don’t answer every day. the only trouble is that no one picks up the answer when it comes down so not too many people get to see and know . . . and then it flies away. I still say that some of the biggest criminals are those that turn their heads away when they see wrong and know it’s wrong.”

The song has had a rich legacy. It replaced the poetry of Shakespeare in a Sri Lanka textbook. The movie “Forest Gump” character of Jenny sings it and war protesters made it an anthem in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Dylan even sang it for Pope John Paul II and the man who would become Pope Benedict XVI. Pope John Paul II agreed with the chorus, relating it to the winds of the Holy Spirit. In his book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, Douglas Adams calls the opening line of the song the Ultimate Question: “How many roads must a man walk down?”

Are the roads we traverse random or do we select them? The concept of predestination would seem to answer that we walk a preordained path with all challenges mere lessons on our path to fulfillment. The concept of free will would seem to contradict that and imply that the choices we make are random and based upon a host of emotional, genetic, environmental, and intellectual processes.

Columbia University professor Duncan Watts has conducted the Network Project for a number of years, a research project similar to the popular six degrees of separation theory which states that all life is connected with rather small networks of relativity.

The concept began with the theories of Guglielmo Marconi concerning his radio work and referenced in his 1909 Nobel Proze address. Later Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy wrote a challenge to find another person with whom he could be connected using only five other people. Two University of Parish professors in the early 1950’s wrote a mathematical manuscript entitled “Contacts and Influences” which formally articulated the mechanics of social networks and degrees of connectedness. This led to the Milgram Experiment at Harvard in 1967 which attempted to measure the paths between people.

A successful movie, made more famous by the use of the title in this arena of research, has continued the discussion and studies continue today. Biases and theories such as “funneling” are bandied about, especially as use of the Internet and the concept of small world networking via computers had become the primary force for commerce.

Yet, for some, no matter how far they travel, they end up back where they started. It may be a reconnection with an old friend via FaceBook, retiring only to return to a beloved hobby once forgotten but now resumed, moving back to the old neighbor and trying to figure out if one really can go home again. For parents, sometimes it is watching your children repeat mistakes of the parents’ youth; the child preferring to learn on their own rather than use the wisdom of their parents past. Are these networks of connectedness? Is the hand of fate really the one in control or are these just predictable life situations that blow in the wind and, if one stands still, will again blow into one’s life?

Shelley E. Taylor, from the UCLA is the senior author of a new research that seeks to discover the connections between low self-esteem, optimism or the lack thereof, and something called “mastery”, the belief that one has control over one’s life. The gene Taylor and her colleagues identified is the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR). Oxytocin is a hormone that increases in response to stress and is associated with good social skills such as empathy and enjoying the company of others. Taylor acknowledges the environmental factors, social relationships, good parenting, and other genes will be part of the solution network. For now, though, OXTR can be a motivating force in the winds of our lives.

So as we travel the many roads of life, we need to remember that we might just once again detour back to the road we are walking today. Then again, we might just realize that the answer to the Ultimate Question, said to 42, is nothing more than part of a comedy sketch written by John Cleese. Better to use the connections in our beliefs and books of faith, giving thanks for all we learn and love. After all, what really counts is that we walk the road we are on with the best intentions possible. That way, no matter how many roads we walk, all we have blowin’ in the wind is goodness and love as the winds of the Holy Spirit embrace us and guide us.

My Psalm 46

You are my strength, O God.
The winds of life blow
And I am sometimes lost.
You will guide me home.
You shelter me with love.
You lead me to friends.
You never forsake me, O Lord.
Your promises are my anchor.
Praise to you, O God.
You are my rock, my shelter in the storm.
Your love and promises steer us home.

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