Thursday, February 12, 2015

Nobody, but nobody can make it out here all alone...

Ok, make that 78 days until we depart on our "magical mystery tour" aka sabbatical...

One of the challenges of this event is keeping perspective - always a double-edge sword, yes? As I read and pray over the news - President Obama's request for another war authorization in the Middle East, the murder of three young Muslims in Chapel Hill, NC, the viscous blow back against the modest acknowledgement of Christianity's ugly shadow history the President made at the National Prayer Breakfast , Russia and Ukraine, Yemen, Israeli elections,  MORE snow - I find myself a little too eager to get away from it all. So much pain born of religion.

When I was in seminary, Professor James Forbes once called me into his office for a
conversation. I was active in anti-imperialism, peace work in Central America and was in the midst of recruiting students for a non-intervention rally in DC. The good reverend welcomed me and then asked me, "Do you have a death wish?" I was baffled so he continued, "Look, Lumsden," he said, "there is plenty of time after seminary to get yourself killed, ok? What's more, there will be no end to human suffering. So, why not make the most of your seminary years? Even Gandhi went on retreat after returning from South Africa; maybe you could do likewise." What he was urging - and what I failed to grasp - is that there is a season to every thing under heaven: a time to study, a time to act, a time to laugh, a time to weep. Seminary could have been a time for deep study and spiritual enrichment for me - and mostly it wasn't. I didn't have ears to hear or eyes to see.

So I thanked Brother Forbes and kept on organizing. It was only 20 years later that his point burned through my fog and I realized that there is a rhythm to activism. Like Fr. Rohr says, it is all about action AND contemplation. So that is part of my dilemma: I am ready now for the retreat time even as I lament the wounds all around me. 

The other part is this: I know that my small efforts towards reconciliation and coexistence are just a drop in the bucket. Not a whole lot changes because of our small concerts for peace. Not many hearts are changed by the work we do at church or in the community. Such is the foolishness of this path and I suspect it will always cause anxiety within me. It is all I can do and it is never enough; it is almost always insignificant and it matters to those who are present. A man wrote to me after Sunday's musical meditation: a dear friend died of cancer this morning before worship. As I entered your song - Deep Within - I sensed not only that she was at peace but that she was reminding me to trust that love that is deep within us all. I felt a weight lift and wanted to say thank you.

Next week, after Ash Wednesday and we begin the Sundays of Lent, I will lead an in-worship discussion/study of the book of Job. Both Elie Wiesel and Stephen Mitchell will guide me as I share this fundamental paradox:  "When Job discovers his voice after the long silence, he doesn't curse God explicitly... but he comes as close as possible. He curses his own life and in doing so curses all of life... In this curse, Job allies himself with the primal forces of darkness and chaos and with the archetypal symbol of evil, the Serpent Leviathan whom we will meet again at the poem's conclusion. He must hurtle to the bottom of his despair before he can begin to stand up for himself." (Mitchell, Into the Whirlwind, p. xiii)

The snow is starting to fall with purpose now.  There may be yet another blizzard this weekend. There is fear and loathing all around. And at the same time, there are these students in Chapel Hill standing vigil in solidarity with those they love but never knew. It is always both/and, yes? Maya Angelou put it like this in a poem:

Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don't believe I'm wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires
With money they can't use
Their wives run round like banshees
Their children sing the blues
They've got expensive doctors
To cure their hearts of stone.
But nobody
No, nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.
Now if you listen closely
I'll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
'Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone. 

Be gentle with yourselves, my friends. Listen to Brother Forbes and Fr. Rohr. It is always about action and contemplation - engagement and rest - work and play.


robert riels said...

Beautifully written, James, and very inspirational
I must say. Bon voyage to us all!

RJ said...

Thank you so much, Robert. So glad to reconnect after all these years.

summertime is half over...

A gentle rain is falling in the Berkshire hills this morning. Already it feels like a day of contemplation and quiet rest. There was a Fac...