Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Meditations on a Dysfunctional Water Heater

The other day I turned on the hot water and cold came out. I have one of those energy-saving propane water heaters that only turns on when you turn the water on. But this time it didn’t turn on at all.

As I pondered how long it might be before I would have hot water again, and what I might do in the meantime, I thought I’d bring the whole mess into my meditation, since it was distracting me anyway.

I came to the following conclusion: the water heater broke down because it was supposed to break down. Now don’t think that I’m indulging in fatalism here. The heater was designed to cease functioning—not only by unscrupulous manufacturers with their cheap materials, shoddy workmanship, and planned obsolescence, but by God Himself. You see, it was just “going the way of all flesh,” which inevitably wears out, breaks down, ceases functioning, decomposes. It is the rule of all bodies, machines, vehicles, and monks. If the water heater had refused to malfunction, it would have been lying to me about its true nature, and I may have been deceived into thinking I would never need a new one, that I could rely on it forever. But I can’t, so I ought to be told the truth. Thank you, #*!% machine!

Things don’t go as we would like them to, because they’re not supposed to. We’re not in Paradise, remember—we’re in exile. All things pass because the heavens and the earth themselves are going to pass. Everything here is provisional, temporary, fragile, brittle, and subject to innumerable failures, diseases, and problems. Now, take my computer—please! My septic system is also slowing down fearfully; when that finally backs up, I’ll give you a meditation on Hell.

So, my water heater was preaching a homily to me—on the brevity of life, the unreliability of ephemeral material goods, the ultimate decomposition of all living and non-living things—and hence was pointing me in the direction of That Alone which endures forever. Jesus said we would have suffering in this world; He said that unrighteous mammon (and all that it provides) would fail us. It is common wisdom that you can’t take it with you—no U-hauls are ever seen attached to hearses, as they say. So we ought to get more or less used to everything going wrong, for here we have no lasting city. We must, however, take reasonable care of ourselves and our loved ones and whatever God’s providence has entrusted to us, but we can’t guard anything too jealously, for nothing is ours to keep—nothing except that which survives death. Our outer selves are wasting away, said the Apostle, but our inner selves are being renewed each day. Focus, then, on the renewal of the inner self; don’t cling too tightly to outer things or put your trust in them. They’re going to break down, because they’re meant to. It’s one way God teaches us the truth about life, and about what really matters.

In case you’re wondering, I tinkered with the heater for a while and got it to work—for now.