From a centered place
Would we have done better? A question I often ask myself when I’m being more than a little “judgy” about the important and the sometimes less than important decisions and actions I witness other people taking and making.
It’s discomfiting, the voices at the school board meeting in Uvalde, Texas. Discomfiting, disturbing, confronting, conflicting. I don’t probably want to hear them, to acknowledge a kind of pain that goes beyond what human beings can endure, and yet they do. Parents calling for answers. Shouting their pain at what happened, at what didn’t happen, at who decided, at nobody deciding, at the ticking of time that in moments last forever and in others are gone in the blink of an eye. It could have been different, it should have been different, it wasn’t.
A young child’s voice from the classroom who survived, “they were my friends.” A colleague’s voice, injured but still alive, “I couldn’t help, but nobody came.” How do two people whose names and faces and voices now known and heard across the nation and which will also quickly disappear from our consciousness, how do they live into surviving a life-altering, life-defining, life-taking event that others they knew and love, did not?
Will demanding accountability help? Yes and no. Is there catharsis in demanding it? I think perhaps so. Finally will it bring peace to the hearts of the grieving? No. We want it to, we pray for it to, we shudder in imagining ourselves in the shoes of parents and siblings and grandparents and friends and neighbors knowing that which brings peace is not so easily found. Will I continue to pray diligently for both peace and for merciful justice? Without question. Will it happen in a moment? In a year and a day? In a lifetime? Maybe, and maybe not. It will be sacredly different for each unique and beloved person walking the journey of grief and loss.
How about for us? Those of us who look on dramatic and traumatic events from afar? Who hear the voices, the anger, the pain and wonder what it is we have to offer? Believe it or not in these moments I’m not focused on the commonsense actions I will always believe we can and I pray one day will take that data shows can lessen the likelihood of such death-dealing events. I’ll come back to that another day. Today I want to consider what it is faithful human beings can do to ensure the actions we take are from a place of our own deep peace and even selflessness.
I’ve learned over the years that when something passes across my thoughts randomly, I do well to pay attention. The day I heard the voices of the families at the Board meeting in Uvalde on the news, I thought of a favorite small book gifted to me very early in my seminary life. Written by Henri Nouwen it is entitled, “Out of Solitude,” and this is the passage that is informing my spiritual life in these difficult days:
“In the solitude we can slowly unmask the illusion of our possessiveness and discover in the center of our own self that we are not what we can conquer, but what is given to us. In solitude we can listen to the voice of him who spoke to us before we could speak a word, who healed us before we could make any gesture to help, who set us free long before we could free others, and who loved us long before we could give love to anyone. It is in this solitude that we discover that being is more important than having, and that we are worth more than the result of our efforts. In solitude we discover that our life is not a possession to be defended, but a gift to be shared. It is there we recognize that the healing words we speak are not just our own but are given to us; that the love we can express is part of a greater love; and that the new life we bring forth is not a property to cling to, but a gift to be received. In solitude we become aware that our worth is not the same as our usefulness.”
What a gift, these words. Nouwen comes to them from his understanding of the many times we see Jesus, in scripture, taking time to go alone by himself to pray. Particularly after hearing news of the death of John the Baptist, and again when he enters the Garden of Gethsemane. How can we, in our faith, come to understand that the strength of action, of decisions, of words and behavior do well to come from a centered place that we perhaps can only reach when willing to spend time in solitude? How much different might our collective sense of purpose in working for the common good be if we came first from a place of sacred and soul-full peace?
In these most heat-filled and sometimes difficult days of summer, commit with me some time to be alone and quiet. To engage the part of our faith that invites us to rest, to read and listen to those things that bring us, if not peace, a sense of being settled within ourselves. From that place we may move out into the world with a kind of strength that unites rather than divides, that strengthens rather than conquers, that offers grace in the face of judgment and condemnation knowing finally, that God’s grace is the only certainty that brings life.