And who of you, being anxious, is able to add to his age one cubit? Matthew 6.27
A cubit, I read, is the distance between your elbow and the tip of your middle finger. In this teaching, the Gospel attributes this saying to Jesus. The most important man in the world teaches people how to best live in the world,
and "best" has to mean both loving the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, and mind and loving your neighbor as yourself. He cuts to the chase with this question. It's buried in the middle of a series of questions about clothes, food, and basic needs to survive and thrive. At the core of it all is that basic human instinct that wants to live and to keep living. Were life not even worth the living (life without clothes; life with no food or drink; life with needs unmet), there would still be that fundamental drive to survive. And it's absolutely fear-driven. We are attached to our lives, and letting go will not be easy.
The funny thing about a cubit is the way it changes over time. It has to by definition. Think about your perspective on life. No, I mean, literally, your perspective on life. If you take a moment and become aware of your body, notice what you see. Here, I'll do it with you...
From the rims of my eyes, lashes are illumined by incoming light. Each eye gets its own angle on the nose. The nose is too close, so my brain doesn't even fool with processing the stereo image. Two smooth, phantom-like triangles protrude into my vision. Occasionally, I look down and notice the top of my lips. From there, it's always my torso, hips, legs, and feet when gazing downward. But the fingers, hands, wrists, forearms, and biceps remain in view always. When I don't see them, it makes me anxious. So I may bring them into view for comfort's sake. The cubit remains ever before me, just like my sense of a lifespan.
I said earlier that the cubit changes over time. When you were a child, you viewed a smaller cubit. You didn't know it was small. That realization came when you crawled into a loving lap. You felt the security of one who truly cared for you. You noticed how much bigger their arm was when you put yours next to it. This was a different cubit indeed--one life-worn, wrinkled, scuffed, and stained maybe. But now you're older. Your cubit has changed. You'd never know it, though, because it's always in view--unless, of course, it were you securing that little one in your loving lap. Then, maybe, you'd notice how much smaller his or her arm was when you put yours next to it. This would be a different cubit indeed--one with life anew, pure, soft, and flawless.
In this verse, the word "cubit" can also mean "lifespan" (also always in view; also something ever before you). It can be a little overwhelming to become mindful of what all the brain has to process just to give you a that digitized image we call normal. It can be overwhelming to become mindful of the finitude of a lifespan, like a measure beginning at the bend of the elbow and abruptly blocked by the empty space of the unknown beyond the fingertips.
Jesus doesn't try to save us from this anxiety and suffering. To feel this fear is not sin, so no lopping off limbs in this teaching of Jesus. He teaches us, rather, that we will journey with the cubit all life long. Regardless of how you feel about it, a cubit remains a cubit. Jesus, in this inevitability, is really asking us another question: "Now what?" Notice the temporal locale of this inquiry. Somehow, that seems to be the point of it all.
Oh, speaking of adding a cubit to our ages, we will attempt to lengthen our days, beginning Sunday morning. Daylight Savings Time is here again.