Paralysis Analysis I

I am not happy with my writing self. I wonder if I am suffering from a bout of social, cultural and ecclesial paralysis. It’s a heart thing, like most things that matter are I suppose. I share sermon texts because I am told others appreciate my musings and insights into the Biblical texts. Thank you for reminding me of this.

But I want to post on other, more current, stuff too – I used to in previous years. You know what I mean: a world leader’s latest tirade, or the latest mass shooting, or the latest war zone in an urban neighbourhood, or the latest church scandal, or the latest news about migrants approaching the border,  or the latest climate change calamity, or the latest celebrity caught in a sex scandal, or the latest drug bust, or the latest stats about the mass exodus from our churches, or the latest natural disaster claiming innocent lives, or the latest vulgar outburst by prominent politicians. And then that bus crash, now six months ago, that swept 16 young lives off the face of the earth and left 13 others forever scarred in body and spirit, not to mention all those connected in love with these 29 victims. Why did it happen? It didn’t need to happen, it was just a country highway, in the middle of nowhere, literally … Why does any of this crap happen? Why?

Each of these stories makes my blood boil and my head spin. So I lunge into a verbal assault over a world going awry. But after the first sprint of words a strange paralysis sets in. What’s the point? Do I have anything to add to the big voices out there? And why do I feel so out of place? Why do I feel like it’s time for me to take leave, for I no longer recognize the world of love and grace, of beauty and mercy I was so committed to building?

A car bomb explodes on another continent and I look over my shoulder with suspicion at an approaching car in my little prairie town; what is happening? An ordinary-looking man bursts into a synagogue with an automatic rifle, killing ordinary people at prayer – at prayer! – and I weep when looking out over my own prairie congregation on a Sunday morning; what is happening? My seven-year old granddaughter sternly chides the US president for his rudeness, adding she’d never trust him with her jewels, and I become terrified for the future of our children’s children; what is happening?!

Call it helplessness and powerlessness, grief and sorrow over a world lost, a world failing millions of good people deserving of dignity and belonging, deserving of hope and a safe future. Is it really getting harder to keep faith and hope alive? Or has it always been thus, just that this is the age I live and cry in, the age I laugh and work in. Nothing is spared the melancholic plague; even my faith in Jesus is shaking loose from its spiritual anchor some days. The urge to crawl under a rock and wait for this chaos to sort itself out, is too big to resist at times.

Yes,  global communication, Facebook and other social media have made it possible to grant the world with all its sorrows and pains a permanent place in our living rooms and kitchens, the office and even our bedrooms. That same digital world also brings love, joy and beauty of course, but somehow that trio sits shyly in a corner while the tsunami of misery rolls through the house.

So I fall silent, even when I could speak. I fall silent even in morning prayer time, filled with an eerie emptiness before God. And I wonder if God is even awake, if God even cares. Or should I apologize to the great Almighty for the mess, for the atrocious ways we are plundering and desecrating the world (nature, animals, habitat, people, oceans), that tiny planet earth, our common home, created out of nothing but divine love, that incredible, intricate world created for … goodness? Nothing seems sacred and beautiful anymore… Defend me, O God, and plead my cause … from the deceitful and the unjust, rescue me (Psalm 43).

Eventually I snap out of the melancholy, mostly through small stuff. I see a herd of deer in the stubble on my way to work, and my heart leaps ever so slightly, daring a smile. The smell of fresh bread from my oven never fails to fill my nostrils with the aroma of God’s provision and tender care. The tasty garden carrots, fresh corn and parsley generously feed both body and soul, bending my stomach into a thank you. Crisp sunny fall days, combines humming in the fields, remind me that the earth feeds us; clearly we eat by the grace of nature, not industry. Dried up fields and forests, frosted plants and shriveled up shrubs play hide ‘n seek; they are not dead, merely falling asleep for winter’s rest. Weekly supper at the Soup Kitchen startles me into holy communion almost every time – forming an unlikely bunch of people into one family. An intense conversation with someone in need was clearly not accidental – God’s still on the job and the divine time-table still operates despite everything. The loving commitment of adult children to their ailing 90-some year old mother, one of my parishioners, speaks to God’s own steadfast and faithful promise, trustworthy and sturdy enough to lean on when my time comes.

I fear counting too many blessings, lest I become smug and callous, forgetting the multitudes  who barely have any to count. And yet counting them I must, braiding tiny fragile threads into a divine rescue rope to hold onto while absorbing the mess and the sorrow, the pain and the agony. And it dawns on me … that somebody else … long ago … did exactly that: hanging on to God’s rescue rope of love sweating and shaking, emptying himself while absorbing all pain and darkness, all sin and evil, thus opening the path of salvation for all … Despite everything: Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare your praise …

We have to be candles,
burning between hope and despair,
faith and doubt, life and death,
all the opposites.
That is the disquieting place
where people must always find us.

And if our life means anything, if what we are
goes beyond the monastery walls and does some good,
it is that somehow, by being here, at peace,
we help the world cope
with what it cannot understand. ~ William Brodrick

Prairie Encounters

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