“There is a really deep well inside me. And in it dwells God. Sometimes I am there, too … And that is all we can manage these days and also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves.” — Etty Hillesum
How do you feel when you hear these words or phrases? Love, passion, freedom, receive, a full belly, generous, lavish lifestyle, low debt, enjoyment, pleasure, delight, acceptance? Now, pause for another moment and reflect on how do you feel when you hear these words? Rejection, restraint, limitation, withhold, resistance, empty, scarcity, abstinence, insecure, displeasure, pain?
Most of us respond far more positively to the first set of words, and far more negatively to the second. It’s almost visceral. However, like it or not, we swim in a culture of pleasure, and, in our view, God would only care about (or be characterized by) words that speak of generosity and giving and enjoyment. Our new-age God would never ask us to be in scarcity. After all, we worship a God of abundance, right? Just ask the like of Joel Osteen who has amassed an empire based on the ‘prosperity gospel’, an aberrant theology that teaches God rewards faith—and hefty tithing—with financial blessings.
But, for many, we live in fear and denial of the reality: many are our to literally wipe us away. If you are ‘different’ by their standard, you are rejected and deemed expendable. Ask those of us who ever loved someone of the same sex, or lives our lives openly as a gay/lesbian person, or married someone younger, or finds our truth in a fluid gender status, or is fully whole as alternatively gendered than birth, or we inherited a darker skin color, or emigrated from a land distant from our preset shores. The list is endless.
But wait! Under the present Administration and its allies there are more to add to our list! If you seek support, need welfare assistance, are food insecure, or are anything other than a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant that lift your hands high to a God you worship while you stick your foot on the neck of those you dislike. No, the gospel is not alive and well, only the hatred that comes from a gospel warped by our own prejudice and violence and hatred of the ‘others’ we despise. We run quickly past the scriptures for love and embracing our enemies and we instead invoke a semi-Levitical code for death to all who we hate. We have now even allowed the courts to stack the deck against freedoms gained. I stand back and ask myself quietly and disgustedly, ‘what have we become; it can’t get any worse.’ But, it does.
Yes, we are indeed a generation that needs to receive the fullness of the lavish love and the border-breaking permissions of God, but we must first see that God for what He demands of us; see it in truth, not distorted. We are also a generation that is chained by both public and secret lack of restraint, self-control, and multiple levels of addictions and hatreds. Perhaps we might remember something Jesus taught us in the desert: The ‘Destroyer’ knows exactly how to tempt, how to test our limits. The devil – in all his forms – loves to break someone who is good at saying “Yes” to themselves, and “No” to others. We can easily identify the others now, right? They don’t wear the red hat of hate and division.
So how do we do it? How do we look outwards toward others and not lose ourselves? I think that somehow our vocation as believers in these sad times must be to first restore our inherent ‘Divine Center’ by holding it and fully occupying it ourselves. It is why we offer Adoration, Rosary and Contemplative Offerings to fortify our prayer life at Saint Miriam. It is why we welcome everyone through our doors and freely to our altar. It strengthens us to serve the homeless in the city and still maintain the beauty of a parish in the suburbs. If contemplation and joy would ever mean anything deep, it must include that we can “safeguard that little piece of You, God,” as Hillesum described it, but truthfully and wholly and inclusively.
What could it mean to find this kind of deep rest in God in a world such as ours today? Every day more and more people are facing the catastrophe of extreme weather, and as Fr. Rohr says so well: a neurotic news cycle driven by a single narcissistic leader whose words incite true hatred, violence, sows discord, and amplifies the daily chaos between people of color, varied sexualities and gender status, wide-ranging national origins, and differences that our nation has tried to overcome for centuries. We made such strides, but now we are in full reverse mode. And, the pandemic seems to be returning in waves greater than before and many who follow him are more concerned with their own comfort and ‘false freedoms’ than the lives of the weak and the vulnerable. The power of hatred comes through a false idol and a warped sense that by harming or eliminating those who literally live on the edges of the margins somehow makes us fuller, more blissful, beyond content. It’s no wonder our mental and emotional health are decline. We hate openly now. Others – those we hate – now are forced to hide in fear, as the sun is setting on their brief moment of safety and light. Shame on us. Shame on us who permit it and shame on those who perpetrate it.
So, I will not give into fear. I will not post that you must rush to me to be married before your rights are removed, or that someone our doors will one day shut to your need for sanctuary. No, I will not give into that fear. I will instead pray, and vote, and stand up, and even lose my life for your rights. And, no, Saint Miriam will never change its course or cause. Yes, by our living only for ourselves; by our turning only to God when we are in need, by our rejecting the true values of being a Catholic Christian, we have wholesale abandoned any sense of truth or caring.
Things must change. Living in fear will not help. Stand as a sentry at the door of your senses so “the blood-dimmed tide” cannot make its way into your soul, for these next coming months, and whatever they bring, know God is still God. We are still here, and we will not live in fear.