In our churches' Wednesday afternoon Zoom chat (anyone else "Zoomed out”?) the first of two Zoom gatherings yesterday, we were asked to identify signs of hope in the gut-wrenching time we are facing. We do so from a stance of world-weariness, which I credit to the emotional multi-tasking we have all been doing. Our emotions have been pummeled by the coronavirus pandemic, economic uncertainty, and now racial and societal unrest sparked by the unconscionable murder of George Floyd before our very eyes. We live in the double irony of events that are beholden to the news cycle, yet leaving indelible images of violence which scar our souls.
I know it takes an enormous amount of chutzpah for an old white guy to address this time of pain. In my privileged white cocoon, I never had to instruct our sons, aside from simple human decency, how to behave or dress in public, because any attention-grabbing deviation or suspicion might cost them their lives. I have never had to worry about employment, access to health care, racial denigration, being able to choose a neighborhood in which to live, or fear law enforcement. From personal, familial and societal experience I have never doubted that my life mattered.
Maddeningly, however, when a segment of society which has for centuries experienced only the opposite and claim that their lives matter, that in nearly every category of life they suffer disproportionately, their claim is met with defensive outrage. The bent knee, the arm raised call down fire and fury. Sometimes there is a tipping point, and we are there. Is there now any reason not to protest violence, but work for justice and equitability, to stand in solidarity against what we know is simply wrong.
It is wearying: pandemic; injustice; systemic violence; the rise of white supremacy; our own military facing down American civilians, all in the absence of healing, moral leadership. Our souls are tired.
When I was an early adolescent, I sang in my church's Junior Choir, at the voice-changing age where our director would gently advise me, "Tommy, why don't you just mouth the words on this one?" Mr. Miner introduced us to a hymn no longer in our hymnal: "I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say". I remember him instructing us to listen carefully not only to the text, but the tune. It starts out in a minor key ("a morbid little ditty", as he described it), a soulful response to the writer's lament:
I heard the voice of Jesus say, "Come unto me and rest; Lay down thou weary one lay down, Thy head upon my breast."
The text and music continue in an assuring, heartening major key:
I came to Jesus as I was, Weary and worn and sad; I found in him a resting place, And he has made me glad.
One of the core concepts of Celtic spirituality is that the heartbeat of the sacred pulses through all things, all persons, all creation. Its articulate exponent, John Philip Newell, often recounts the story of John the Beloved Disciple at the Last Supper. Celtic memory says when he laid his head on the breast of Jesus (John 13:23), he "heard the heartbeat of God". A personal favorite in the Cleveland Museum of Art is a fourteenth German oak sculpture of that very scene (pictured above). A comforting Jesus holds John's hand and embraces him. John hears the very heartbeat of God. Listen carefully: you can, too, and so can I. And so can George Floyd.
Faithfully, in love, Pastor Tom+