Lately I’ve been making a minor spectacle of myself on the subway. Certainly not enough to register among the usual display of flamboyant commuter behavior, but still somewhat out of the ordinary, as I choke back tears of emotion, head fervently buried in a simple pamphlet. The pamphlet is the 2015 “Lenten Devotional”— a collection of reflections on scripture contributed by congregants at SP&SA. There is a devotion for each day of lent, and I am overwhelmed at the wisdom on display in every single one.
Liz says: “Violence is so pervasive it is nearly impossible to imagine a world without it, but what if human beings stopped treating bodies as commodities used for political gain, financial gain, power, control, retribution?…I pray for an end to violence and the systems that perpetuate it. May we live to see the day when all bodies are treated with kindness and love.”
Aurora says: “To live as God wishes, sometimes we must bear the harder paths in order to grow as we should. As a junior in high school, this rings very true for me…I hope that everyone can find a way to take life’s challenges and, instead of feeling buried beneath them, find a way to make them stepping stones to God.”
Ken says: “It is that which is beyond our understanding, the limitlessness of God’s Oneness, which provides the impetus for our faith journey. It is the miracle of God’s creative process, the Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations that propels us forward.”
Susan says: “We survive death because there is no such thing as death, just separation. Jesus demonstrated this by his life and the manner of his death. As much as we humans love to take big ideas and cram them into small boxes, this message is clear, to those who can but take a few steps back.”
To me, this outpouring of faith is living proof that God is here, working in us, gathering us to be part of one human family that is resilient to the hardships of the world through love.
And it’s not just SP&SA where I see this grace at work. I am dazzled on a daily basis by the compassion and courage embodied by those I have been fortunate enough to know over the course of my life thus far. The friends who have come out as their true selves despite a judgmental society, and in doing so touched and inspired scores more. The friends who have both taken to the streets in peaceful protest and offered thoughtful, eloquent, powerful testimonies in response to injustice and oppression. The friends who bravely face their personal demons on a daily basis so that they can be more kind to themselves and to others.
After a rather patchy familiarity with the Bible gleaned from years of Sunday School and sermon listenin’, I’ve been reading it more deeply. Given the caliber of humanity that I’ve lately witnessed in such abundance, I was struck by the passage in Acts in which Peter heals a beggar. The beggar is a man “lame from birth” who sits at the gate of the temple every day, asking for money. Peter takes him up by the right hand and the beggar finds himself healed. The passage jumped out at me because it is the first time that Jesus’ followers take up his call of love and compassion without him, by directly helping somebody else. Peter explains that the man has been healed through God’s power, and shares the prophecy that “in your descendants all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
I am moved because as I see the people I know healing and caring for each other, I see our human family pulling together, and I see that it is blessed.
In addition to a food pantry, social hall, courtyard and sanctuary, our church also has a theatre. The theatre is now featuring a play written about SP&SA (and the other congregations and groups that meet here), called The Church of Why Not. The play is a heartfelt, honest portrayal of doubt and faith, illustrating how difficult it is to open oneself up to the concept of God, and yet how powerfully God is felt in the connections between people. Watching it, I felt very acutely the importance of community.
Even more so, because I know that hate and destruction still exist. I know that suffering is happening. As Liz says, “violence is pervasive.” I have let myself be overwhelmed by despair that people still treat each other – the other parts of the same body! – so cruelly, and that the earth is being so wantonly exploited and damaged. Especially with the latter fact in mind, I know that there are very difficult times ahead, dark to the point of hopelessness.
So it is a stunning revelation that this is not the only force at work. Everywhere I see those that Jesus named in the Beatitudes – the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the meek, those who seek righteousness – rising up and demonstrating through their words and actions that we are more than the evil that exists. We are resilient. God has not given up on us because God is alive in us and continuing to work through us.
Siobhan gave me a beautiful gift when she assigned me Psalm 107 for the Lenten Devotional. It forced me to look past my climate-related doubt and fear and focus instead on the good that is unequivocally at work. I have been delivered through ways of thinking and behaving that were as destructive to me as climate change is to the planet. Appreciating what I have been given is not only right, it is a way to manifest the very grace that gave to me, and propel it forward into the future. This shift in perspective essentially cracked me open and showed me the truth in Jesus’ words: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Witnessing the resilience of the community, and the kindness and strength of those who make up that community, I am comforted, even as I mourn for the astounding loss accompanying climate change.
And I am so, so, so grateful. THANK YOU for being resilient, loving members of the community, the beloved community. Let’s move forward together, ok? I’ll leave off with the prayer that Ken suggests for us in his reflection:
God of Grace, help me accept your limitless grace in order to replace fear with comfort. Help us understand that which is beyond comprehension so that we may join with you in soulful and everlasting life. We pray this in the name of God the Creator, God the Redeemer and God the Inspiration. Amen.