Turning, Turning We Come Round Right

The Shaker hymn “Tis the gift to be simple” ends with the phrase, “Till by turning, turning we come round right.”  I don’t know what inspired those words, but I think of them every time I come across the 18th chapter of Ezekiel where God puts to rest the idea that it is God who visits the sins of the father on generations of sons yet to come.  In that same chapter God twice declares that God takes no delight in the death of anyone, not even evil persons, and only desires that each turn away from death and toward God who is the only source of life.  The chapter is filled with turning: the turning of good persons who end up doing bad things, the turning of bad persons who end up doing good things, and the turning of each again.  It is that turning and turning again that is my life, and undoubtedly yours also. 

Ezekiel can be read to imply that one’s turning away from evil and toward God must coincide with one’s death if there is to be hope for salvation.  It almost sounds like a roll of the dice, and I don’t think that is what God meant.  It seems to me that the entire passage opens the door for us to begin apprehending God’s desire for a universal salvation that will be realized centuries later in Christ Jesus.  In our turning, turning, it is God in Christ who will see that we come round right.  The author of Hebrews envisioned that as happening through the constant intercessions of the resurrected Christ whose saving act was accomplished once for all.  At the same time, I am convinced that God never takes away our free will, so that it is possible, and perhaps probable for some, having been turned round right, to choose one last turn and go head long into the darkness of that which is not life.  It is the last turning that C.S. Lewis imagined so well in The Great Divorce. 

Questions yet remain.  For instance, is it in this life only that we make that last fateful turn, or, as Lewis imagined, is that last opportunity in another time and space when one confronts the reality of God in Christ?  As followers of Jesus, how can we best share that good news with those who have not heard it?  How essential is baptism and/or a confession of Jesus as one’s personal savior to that final turning?  How essential is church membership and attendance?  Is the word ‘essential’ appropriate at all?  Maybe we would be better served talking about the role of Christian discipleship, the sacraments and membership in dedicated assemblies, and leave the question of essentiality behind.

4 thoughts on “Turning, Turning We Come Round Right”

  1. When we show our love then we becom an event.\’Tis the gift to be simple,\’tis the gift to be free,\’tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,And when we find ourselves in the place just right,It will be in the valley of love and delight.Refrain: When true simplicity is gained,To bow and to bend we shan\’t be ashamed.To turn, turn will be our delight,\’Til by turning, turning we come round right\’Tis the gift to be loved and that love to return,\’Tis the gift to be taught and a richer gift to learn,And when we expect of others what we try to live each day,Then we\’ll all live together and we\’ll all learn to say, Refrain: \’Tis the gift to have friends and a true friend to be,\’Tis the gift to think of others not to only think of \”me\”,And when we hear what others really think and really feel,Then we\’ll all live together with a love that is real. Refrain:Tillich \”It is a rare gift to meet a human being in whom love—and this means God—is so overwhelmingly manifest. It undercuts theological arrogance as well as pious isolation. It is more than justice and it is greater than faith and hope. It is the presence of God Himself. For God is love. And in every moment of genuine love we are dwelling in God and God in us.\”

  2. I was called away. I think that the turning in the above hymn had to do with thir sacred dancing. I can imagine those shakers whirling around \”in the spirit.\” As a child it felt so good to whirl arouind and say wheeee! It does symbolise the intent of the scripture. That was such a far off time that we can hardly dream of what they meant. I am sure the final turn in the lexionary passage was toward God\’s love and acceptance. I also think that we don\’t know what their idea of time was. it was not liniar industrial time. We have lost touch. Sorry to intrude on this but I felt the spirit.

  3. Yes, the song undoubtedly refers to their dancing. When we visited a Shaker village some years ago (strictly a museum), the guide said that their dancing would have been quite elegant rather than out of control. In any case I was impressed not so much by the simplicity of life that was described as by the ingenuity they brought to almost every aspect of daily life. That aside, the words of the hymn and those of Ezekiel have a harmonious resonance for me.CP

  4. What is essential? I leave questions like that to Christ. Christ is the judge, I am not. I trust Christ will judge justly.Peace to you,Chris

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