Pastoral Reflection for September 1, 2021
Courage! Take heart! God is here, right here, on his way to put things right And redress all wrongs. He’s on his way! He’ll save you!” Blind eyes will be opened, deaf ears unstopped, Lame men and women will leap like deer, the voiceless break into song. Springs of water will burst out in the wilderness, streams flow in the desert. ~ Isaiah 35:4-6 (MSG)
For how long? Perhaps that is the question that many of us have been asking lately. When things seemed to be changing for the better, we had to take a few steps back and replay some of the practices that we thought that we would never need again. Not ever.
As I write these lines I recall the words, tears, emotions, and hopes that many of you have shared with me. I also remember those times when I could only listen and be present, when words had little meaning or in many cases made the wounds hurt even more.
“Courage! Take heart!” says the prophet to a people who have experienced life as exiles, in loneliness and isolation. Perhaps the Israelites thought that they would be able to manage a few years in exile, but as time went by and years added one after another they lost heart and became discouraged. Their hope of going back to what they were familiar with--places, smells, people, connections, and relationships--gradually began to vanish. They realized that things would not be the same, and they lost heart.
It seems to me that many of us have reached that moment in our lives. We cannot handle it any longer. We are frustrated, tired, disoriented, and discouraged. We were willing to tolerate and do our best holding on to the isolation hoping that it would go away, but today we realize that it is not possible to be, to do, and to expect the same. We try to look for the positive side of things but at the end of the day we find ourselves going through the motions, convincing ourselves that everything will be fine, and at the same time fully aware that things are just not the same.
Fr. Richard Rohr, in one of his daily reflections, says that this ongoing transitional age is scary, “things are falling apart, the future is unknowable, so much doesn’t cohere or make sense. We can’t seem to put order to it. This is the postmodern panic. It lies beneath most of our cynicism, our anxiety, and our aggression.”
Crisis begins without warning, shatters our assumptions about the way the world works, and changes our stories and the stories of our neighbors, as Barbara A. Holmes writes in Crisis Contemplation: Healing the Wounded Village. How has this long journey changed your story or your understanding of the story of your life?
The current situation makes me feel as if the external forces of our current reality are pulling us and stretching us in every direction as a rubber band. Because it has been happening for a long time and with such intensity, we are reaching the breaking point. For some life has reached the limit, their lives are snapped. For others we have lost the ability to recover our strength.
The reality that was familiar to us has gone suddenly, and we don’t know what is happening. We feel dislocated and wounded. We are experiencing the absurd, the tragic, the unjust, and the nonsensical. However, the experience is not homogeneous, not all of us are experiencing pain in the same way. Such reality is causing us to react in ways that in some cases hurt us or others.
The prophet reminds us that God’s covenant of love is not a magical power that will take us back to where we were, to what we were used to, or to extract us from the reality of the valley of the shadow of death (Ps. 23). Instead, the prophet says that “God is here! Right here!” In the midst of the pain and the wounded life. The Lord did not promise an orderly life. The message of the Lord tells us that it is about meeting God, not because of our initiative, but because God comes to meet us in Jesus, in the actual, in the incarnate moment, in the scandal of particularity, right here!
Yes, we miss the church gathered in one place, our close partners in ministry, our siblings in the Lord, the experience of breaking bread in person, the melodies that used to be familiar, and the traditions that gave us a sense of being grounded in a settled community. But if we pay attention, the prophet shows us that God gives us the sight to see the new possibilities of the unfolding reign of God, the ability to move forward to the ends of the earth, and the voice to tell about the healing presence of the Lord.
The wounds that we don’t know about or don’t remember are the deepest. Healing is possible because “God is here, right here, on his way to put things right and redress all wrongs.” Ultimately, we can trust the leading of the Holy Spirit as it guides us toward mutual care and love of God, neighbors, and creation. God works in and through all things--even the worst things of life itself.
Although we do not have concrete and specific plans that can provide a sense of security and control for the future of the ministry of TLCS, we have the certainty that Jesus holds all things together. And, we have the call to be open to the possibilities of a new order in which there may be times when we miss the good-old-days, but we know that Jesus has told us that we are called to do and see even greater things.
As a congregation we will continue to find ways to be a place where the living faith of past generations will be experienced in the weekend gathering, but more importantly in the every day, in accompanying one another and the community at large in this difficult journey.
However, we need to remember that we are one body of people who are interconnected, interrelated, and interdependent. You and I are wounded but we are accompanying one another not only among church participants but with the entire community. Pain and hurt will not vanish, but, as Henri Nouwen writes in The Wounded Healer, “When two people have become present to each other, the waiting of one must be able to cross the narrow line between the living or dying of the other.”
Pastor Hector Garfias-Toledo