Friday, November 09, 2012

Yes and No

We have seen and known some people who seem to have found this deep Center of living, where the fretful calls of life are integrated, where No as well as Yes can be said with confidence.

Thomas Kelly

Through the miracle of self-publishing, my newest book, The Time for No, has just appeared. I thought it might be a moment to reflect on this fact.

It--and by "it" I mean publishing this book and Say Yes to No--began with the aftermath of 9-11 in New York City and a sermon I preached, "A Time for Yes and a Time for No," which built off a slight reworking of Ecclesiastes 3, 
For everything there is a season,and a time for every matter under heaven:a time to be born, and a time to die;a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted…
a time to seek, and a time to lose;a time to keep, and a time to throw away;a time for no, and a time for yes.
I realized that, after the tragedy of that day, we as a country needed to return to key values, to key yeses. But in order to do that, we needed strategic, nurturing nos--the kind of no that surrounds, sustains, and protects our yeses.

So no is a critical word. But even with my first book, I knew it couldn't be the last word. I wrote something like this: Ultimately, our nos only create space for a deeper yes to be declared. Conversely the great yeses of life define our nos. Beyond the no, we are designed to listen to a still, small voice whispering Yes to what truly matters. Ultimately, it’s not even the yes that we pronounce. It’s the Yes of God we hear and follow fearlessly. 

In The Time for Yes, I continue. Yes is basic to faith. As the noted author Kathleen Norris has written in the introduction to Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, human infants “build a vocabulary, making sense of the chaos of sound that bombards the senses.” She continues, “Eventually the rudiments of words come; often ‘Mama,’ ‘Dada,’ ‘Me,’ and the all-powerful ‘No!’ An unqualified ‘Yes’ is a harder sell, to both children and adults.” Actually I had always thought that nos were harder, that setting out boundaries in a world of seemingly infinite possibilities posed the greatest challenge, but Norris ties saying yes to realities of faith.

To say “yes” is to make a leap of faith, to risk oneself in a new and often scary relationship. Not being quite sure of what we are doing, or where it will lead us, we try on assent, we commit ourselves to affirmation. With luck, we find that our efforts are rewarded. The vocabulary of faith begins.[i]

           Yes is also central to understanding Jesus Christ, at least according to the early Christian writer Paul who declared,

In him [that’s Christ] it is always “Yes.” For in him every one of God's promises is a “Yes.” (1 Corinthians 1:19-20)

By that, I believe Paul is leading us to see that God’s final word in Christ is an affirmation. Our nos, as it were, make make room for God's great Yes.
           One final note: The inverse is also true; faith is also basic to saying yes. Saying yes to our calling implies that Someone calls us. In my mind, this means God’s call, expressed definitively in Jesus.
           So I decided it was time to look at the time for yes.

[i] Norris, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith (Riverhead, 1998), 1.


Anonymous said...

This article brings to mind G.K. Chesterton's comments about "Yes" and "No." They also seen fitting in the aftermath of of a turbulent political season and approaching Thanksgiving.

-Bill Jackson, Oroville, CA

"Both the progressive and the conservative entirely neglect to consider the very meaning of the words "yes" and "no". To give the answer "yes" to one question is to imply the answer "no" to another question. To desire the construction of something is to desire the destruction of whatever prevents its construction...When our hopes for the coming time seem disturbed or doubtful, and peace chaotic, let us remember that it is really our disappointment that is an illusion. It is our rescue that is a reality. Our grounds for gratitude are really far greater than our powers of being grateful. It is in the mood of a noble sort of humility, and even a noble sort of fear, that new things are really made. We adorn things most when we love them most. And we love them most when we have nearly lost them."
~G.K. Chesterton: Illustrated London News, January 3, 1920

John said...

"We have seen and known some people who seem to have found this deep Center of living, where the fretful calls of life are integrated, where No as well as Yes can be said with confidence."

Even though I feel like my life is pretty much a mess, this paragraph rings true for me.

This would suggest that the ability to say yes and no with confidence doesn't necessarily mean someone is well integrated. :-)