Sunday Morning Meditation
“Consider this, you who forget God,
or I will tear you to pieces, with none to rescue:”
I've been reading about Teddy Roosevelt, former President of these United States, today almost totally forgotten. His gargantuan ego is legendary, his ambition best illustrated, perhaps, by his hugely unsuccessful run for a third Presidential term, when he was backed by an political organization with the goofiest name in American political history, the Bull Moose Party.
A year after he got thoroughly beaten, he nearly died in South America on a madcap canoe trip up totally uncharted Amazon waters, an expedition he took on to assuage the hurt from that embarrassing loss and the fury of former friends and followers who believed his cartoon candidacy literally gave the election to Wilson, the Democrat. Roosevelt got the heck out of Dodge.
Teddy was asthmatic from birth. When he was a boy his father told him he lacked nothing intellectually but much physically, and if he wanted to succeed he needed to work on his body--which he did, even becoming a boxer. By all accounts, Teddy Roosevelt was indefatigable. Whatever he lacked, he worked to get it himself.
Which is not to say he didn’t feel real pain.
On February 12, 1884, his first child, a girl, Alice, was born. But his wife, Alice Hathaway Lee, was diagnosed with Bright’s disease; and two days later, on Valentine’s Day, she died, his college sweetheart, a woman he’d often described as far too good for him.
That very same night, his mother also died from the ravages of typhoid fever. In one night he lost the two most beloved women in his life. “The light has gone out,” he wrote in his journal. He literally could not go home.
So he went west to the Dakotas, driven to believe that, when darkness arrives, the only cure is to lose yourself in adventure, in extremity. The way to beat the horror, he assumed was to beat the anguish out of the soul by sheer hard work. He was on his way up the Missouri, in April, the temperature somewhere just below zero, when his boat was stolen. Without a moment’s hesitation, Roosevelt, the high society New York City boy, went after the thugs and almost single-handedly brought them to justice. The guy was amazing.
Teddy was a tough guy, but what’s so attractive about him, at least to me, is his commitment to energy as bromide. The Dakotas, at that point in his life, were his therapy. Light came back into his life because of the time he spent, often alone, on the Great Plains. Out in the open spaces, he pulled himself, kicking and screaming, back to life itself after emotional loss few of us could bear. That’s how he operated throughout his life, for better or for worse--"do it yourself."
I don’t want to judge the state of the man’s soul, but his unstinting commitment to the bootstraps philosophy, his commitment to sweat and hard work, not as a means to wealth but as means to happiness, resonates deeply with the Calvinist in me, even if I’m not always proud of it.
When I read about Teddy, admiringly, a verse like this one from Psalm 50 is really troublesome, because it's not hard for people like Teddy and me simply to forget God, to sweat it out, to light out for the territories, to pull ourselves out of the darkness, to find our own here-and-now redemption by doing our own work.
For some of us—not all of us--it's really oh-so-easy to forget God.