“A Level or a Plumb Line?”
July 26, 2022, 11:15 AM

This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?”  And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by.  Amos 7:7-8


In rebuilding the church at San Damiano, I am certain that St. Francis did not rebuild with a level in hand.  With rocks as his main source of building material, a level would have been of little use.  He needed something else.

In public discourse, I often hear the phrase, “Let’s level the playing field.”  Equal rights, equal opportunity, equal pay, equal access….  Equal inclusion of women, ethnic, racial, and gender diversities.  “Let’s just level the playing field.”  “If we simply work on new laws, that will solve the problems we face.”

Leveling the playing field is a myth that is as old as the ancient stories of Scripture.  Cain felt that the playing field was not level when the smoke of Abel’s sacrifice ascended to God and Cain’s did not.  There were no laws, but the clubbing of Abel to death didn’t correct the situation either. 

The introduction of the Ten Commandments should have leveled the playing field between people.  “Do not steal, do not kill, do not commit adultery.”  However, the laws had little effect on the people of Israel who did as they pleased.  They forgot the purpose of the law which was to stay centered in God alone.  The consequences were four-hundred years of captivity in Babylon. 

Leveling the playing field is important; however, it cannot be done by creating laws.  There are always lawbreakers.  Punishment as a threat does not work.

Amos, predicting the demise of Israel, put out another image of how to live in an unlevel world.  God is not like the person who levels a playing field.  The field may always be unlevel.  However, unlike a level, God uses a plumb line.  A plumb line is a cord that has a weight attached to one end and is used to see if something is straight up and down.  Its direction stays constant, anchored, and if disturbed always returns to the same up and down place no matter how much it gets pushed.  Like a plumb line, we are able to stay anchored in God who already has a plumb line running through the center of us.

Remember that there is no way to level something when a plumb line is the only solution. 

To see the plumb line, let the noise in your mind go, and sit in silence.  When you are deep in silence, the plumb line appears.  


“Ways of prayer often call forth a kind of knowing that passes
beyond clear ideas and the ordinary way of thinking.”
                                                                    James Finley, Merton's Palace of Nowhere


Peace and Blessings,
Fr. John