The temptation is silence. The temptation is to go get busy doing something else. The temptation is pick up things that don’t really matter, not really, because then our arms will be full and we won’t be able to take more of the heartache, too. The temptation is indifference or numb acceptance. The temptation is to act as if you don’t matter, your voice doesn’t matter. Or perhaps we begin to shout into the wind, to rant without care or caution, to lash out and swing our weapons of fear and hopelessness, becoming dealers of the very disease we decry.
There is an enemy, it feels, whispering into our ear that everything is horrible and it’s all terrible and there is no hope and we will never be whole and peace is a only a fairy tale for children from over the mountains.
These temptations and lies come to us with the bad news, with the fearful and bitter words, with more death and destruction, with baggage of grief and resignation, with the kind of anger that poisons the well. Perhaps at the heart of our despair is the belief that we are powerless.
Here we stand, the people of God – so, the people of Love – in the middle of the dark night, in the dark wood, in the darkness of the night.
And we rise and we shine and we stand.
Like a candle on a lamp stand. Like a city on a hill. Like a flashlight in the forest. Like a lantern on the prow of the ship in the storm. Like a nightlight for a child afraid of the dark. Like a bonfire on a western beach.
We are in times of despair, we know. There is division and discouragement. There is poisonous fruit being eaten from decaying trees and handed around with lies of health.
And here we are, the people of God – so, the people of Love – who plant trees by streams of righteousness; whose leaves will be for the healing of the nations; whose roots go down deep into the soil of God’s love to bear the fruit of the Spirit embodying love and joy and peace, patience and kindness, goodness and faithfulness, gentleness and even yes, self-control.
We plant gardens in the places of our exile for the good of the city where we hear weeping; we fill our lives and our hearts and each other with fruit and vegetables and bread; we even plant the unnecessary-for-survival things like marigolds and peonies and roses because we believe like Dostoevsky that beauty will save the world and we have learned to find the beauty in dirt and water and wind.
So here is my resolution for these very days, the days when we are being lured by fear and anger and despair into hopelessness and silence and resignation; here is what I will tell myself:
I have made my home in Love because I live and move and have my being in Christ. There is no room in this house for fear, for sin, for hatred. I’m making the rooms ready for hope and for peace, I am washing the floors clean for I will refuse hatred in my words and in my own heart. I will remember to pray for my enemies and to love my neighbour and to practice these ways of the disciple as if Jesus meant them because I have a hunch he did mean them when he said them.
I will preach with my days and my words; I will search the Scriptures for Christ because he is our peace; and I will lead like a fellow journeyer, only ever saying: “look there he is, calming the winds and the waves, healing the sick, welcoming the child, talking with the disgraced, eating with the sinners, washing the feet of those who leads, feeding the hungry, dying ignobly, there he is rising from the dead, alive, alive, alive. let’s go to him stay with him walk with him eat with him learn from him how to be alive.”
I will relearn the ways I’ve missed it; I’ll learn how to repent and ask forgiveness; I will learn to forgive. I will cultivate joy and embrace sorrow. Rather than trading shot for shot, rage for rage, despair for despair, I will step out of that cycle of death and walk straight out onto the water, with my eyes on Jesus, he is making a path in the wilderness.
I won’t choose silence and despair and the litany of numb anger: I will choose to rise, to wash my face, and to follow. When I fail – because let’s not kid ourselves – I will brush the dust from my face and the tears from my eyes, I will learn how to start over and over and over; I may finish last but I will run this race.
I will look the fear in the face and speak up anyway. I will look the hopelessness in the faith and declare the hope of the Lord for the redemption and rescue and renewal of all things.
When drowning in words words empty words, I will put my back and my hands into real work, finding the gift of doing things, of making things, of creating things, of healing things, of feeding people, of bringing order out of chaos even in small ways.
I will welcome the disruption of the wild goose, the holy Spirit of God, the awakening of power not for displays and performances but for the empowerment of the people of God to embody the resurrection ways.
I will look at mountains of injustice and rather than pretend it’s not there or walk away as if I can do nothing about it, I will both pray for that mountain to be lifted up and cast into the sea and then I will also pick up my small shovel and my bucket and I will help to make mountains move.
We are not powerless and fearful, not us: and so I pray and I work; I make coffee in the morning and hot meals to gather around the table at suppertime; I worship and sing out words of promise and praise; I raise children and read good books; I pray for my enemies and write letters and send money and show up to fold clothes and drop off meals with an extra bag of groceries; I advocate with the marginalized and amplify the oppressed and antagonize the Empire with a grin on my face; I will honour those who get after the work of the Kingdom and celebrate; I learn how to listen to those with whom I disagree; I abandon the idea that we can baptize sinful practices in the name of sacred purposes; I will stand in the middle of the field near my house with my face turned up to the rain and consider it a minor baptism. I will testify in ordinary ways how we are made for life, not death. We are not afraid, we were made for these days as embodied shalom, this way to resurrection. Tyranny and hate and despair never win, not for long, and not forever, because Love wins.
And here in the midst of the dark times of despair, the people of hope and love are doggedly frustratingly flickeringly relentlessly bright, I want to stand near that light in hopes my own candle ignites.