I wonder if one of religions biggest difficulty is that we
cannot respond to joy. We remember and celebrate our failures but do not
remember or celebrate our successes. In the Hebrew bible it is the battles that
are recorded not the moments of peace. In the Christian New Testament, it is
the pain and sorrow that is highlighted not the holding of a child or the
details of the wedding. We live a
Yes, there are moments in scripture where joy can be found
but if you stack them up against the moments of violence you will discover that
violence tips the scale. In Christianity
the most important holiday is Easter, the resurrection, but it is Maundy
Thursday, and “Good” Friday that receives the press. The return of
Jesus must have been incredibly wonderful, people must have been overjoyed. But
that is not what we hear.
Why are the happy
times, the good times not news? Today the only things on news shows of any kind
are who killed who, who challenges who for power, who hates who. That is not the world I want to live in, but
it appears that is the world we have created from the very beginning.
Violence seems to be hardwired into who we are. Our earliest
ancestors survived on meat killed by their own hand or by other predators. I
get that, I understand the need to eat and feed our families, but there is
always a but isn’t there, the vast majority of humans don’t need to kill to
eat. Most of us can go down to the local market and get what we need. Yes, food inequality exists, and it does so
because we have people who feel they are the only ones and “hoard”
resources. There are enough resources on
this planet to feed every man, woman, and child without letting anyone suffer,
or go hungry.
We have that inequality because we have people who claim
ownership to more than they need and we have others who will fight, even kill,
to get their share. Not a pretty picture of humanity, the supposed children of
God. The prophets, Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammad all tried to change us from
petty, hording, selfish people. We haven’t listened, we continue to be selfish,
we continue to champion and celebrate hate and violence, and we continue to
destroy the planet we live on for our selfish, violent ends.
But, again with the but, If, just if, we imagined a world
where violence didn’t exist what would it look like? What if we celebrated the
joy of life lived with each other, what if we celebrated the joy of living on a
planet that is amazingly beautiful and filled with joy? How would that world
look like, what would we look like? What would our communities look like? You
know I can’t imagine it because I have no words for that kind of joy, that kind
of celebration, that kind of love. Imagination doesn’t need a written word, but
it does need visual ones and within our human existence there are no words,
visual or written, that can describe that kind of life. That makes me sad, very
So much of our lives are made up of survival, of protecting
ourselves from what is outside our door that we have forgotten life in the “Garden”
where fear and hate and struggle were unknown.
I hope we never make it to the stars or find people on other planets
because we in our infinitely violent, stupid, selfish ways would destroy them.
All of this doesn’t mean we should stop recognizing
suffering and be modern day Pollyanna’s. No that isn’t what this all about,
rather it’s about ignoring the good in this world, pushing it aside to revel in
sorrow, in violence, in pain, and in hate.
When we push joy aside and only focus on the non-joy (is that a word?)
we make our lives smaller and we choose to live lives that are less significant.
We are approaching what should be a time of great joy in the
Church calendar. Advent and Christmas should be a time filled with joy of
anticipation of new life. We should be celebrating what will come from
welcoming the joy of the Eternal Holy Spirits gifts. We won’t though will we? I
have grown to hate Advent and Christmas because I see too much selfishness, a
selfishness that locks out most of the world’s poor from a share in that joy. At
this time of the year we share with those less privileged and then forget about
them for the rest of the year. At this time of the year we give, often
abundantly, not as an act of grace, but to clean our souls. Jesus taught the
joy of giving from our abundance was supposed to happen all year long, every
day, every hour. Somehow, we’ve forgotten that.
We humans are the youngest of the species on this planet and
unless we change how we view the world we will not survive to be the oldest,
and we will take the rest of creation with us.
I hope that will not be the legacy of the sad, strange species called Homo
sapiens, sapiens, my fear is it will be.
The only gift I have to offer this week is my sorrow for Paris, Beirut, Syria, Iraq, and all of us. So I offer the Psalms I go to when I am in the midst of sorrow and pain. May your hearts be comforted by the words of the psalmist and may you find solace knowing others cry with you.
Psalm 36:1-4 (MSG) A David Psalm 1-4 The God-rebel tunes in to sedition—
all ears, eager to sin.
He has no regard for God,
he stands insolent before him.
He has smooth-talked himself
That his evil
will never be noticed.
Words gutter from his mouth,
Can’t remember when he
did anything decent.
Every time he goes to bed,
he fathers another evil plot.
When he’s loose on the streets,
He plays with fire
and doesn’t care who gets burned.
Psalm 42 (NRSV)
1As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God. 2My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and behold the face of God? 3My tears have been my food day and night,
while people say to me continually,
“Where is your God?” 4These things I remember, as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng, and led them in procession
to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
a multitude keeping festival. 5Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help 6and my God. My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan
and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. 7Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows have gone over me. 8By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. 9I say to God, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I walk about mournfully
because the enemy oppresses me?” 10As with a deadly wound in my body,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?” 11Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.
I have been trying to think about what to say about the Umpqua shootings but my heart is breaking and my mind won’t process this. So I am asking you for your prayer this week to write letters to your legislators about gun legislation, talk to your neighbors about keeping safe, and get involved in your community and/or church youth programs. Talk kids and get to know your own children and the children they play with. Keep the kids involved with family and community and help them find safe ways to release anger and frustration. If you need a gun for hunting then talk to every member of the family about gun safety and keep your guns in a secure gun safe when you aren’t using them. I know that isn’t much but if all of us become more aware and involved in the efforts to regulate guns in a responsible manner than maybe, just maybe we won’t be speechless anymore.
all will be well
and all will be well
and every manner of thing
will be well
Julian of Norwich, late 14th century mystic
The last couple of weeks have been a bit troubling for me. In one week I heard of the death of three of my friends and then there was a three day trip to Houston to visit my best friends and of course there has been loss of planes, and ferries, and the overwhelming loss in the Oso WA Mudslide. In the midst of this chaos I am writing the first draft of my ordination paper. Needless to say I haven’t bored, although some days I would have liked to be. What I do have is a deep sorrow and fatigue, which are following me around like two sad little puppy dogs.
This morning as I sat down to meditate and flipped open a small book with the writings of a number of medieval mystics I landed on Julian of Norwich’s “all will be well.” I so needed to read those words, because right now nothing feels very well. I grieve the loss of my friends, which interferes with my thought processes for my paper. I want to ask God “what happened? Everything was going along smoothly now it’s all upside down, can’t we please go back to the beginning and start over?” Well God’s answer was “all will be well.”
Yes what seems dark today is only the time before the dawn and new light and new hope. My friends still live in memory, I will finish my paper and God is still there sitting next to me saying “all will be well.”
The following music video of Julian of Norwich’s All Will Be Well by pastor Meg Barnhouse touched me deeply today and says so much of what I am feeling and asks the same questions I have been asking. But Julian of Norwich trusted that God knows the answers and if God said, “all will be well,” then I too will take heart and trust that “all will be well.”