There is a lot to be scared of right now. The pandemic is entering another wave, the President of the United States is inciting armed rebellion against state governments, women’s health is at risk with the likely appointment of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, black and brown bodies are being killed and, on top of all that, the holidays are coming. What a mess.
Yes, it is scary. Halloween will have a whole new feeling this year. But as the author Alan Cohen says “Scared and sacred are spelled with the same letters. Awful proceeds from the same root word as awesome. Terrify and terrific. Every negative experience holds the seed of transformation.”
I believe in transformation. It is how I describe my ministry to the outside world. As the word suggests, trans – formation, is the morphing of one form into another. I look around and see a nation that, for the most part, has had enough of all this. We can turn this around, and every leader I talk to – without exception – says we WILL turn this around; we will turn the scared into the sacred, a new form or, perhaps, the truer form that lies within us as a people of goodwill.
I practice Lectio Divina, the process of reading a poem or scripture several times in order to discern deeper forms of wisdom. This week I have been reading Mary Oliver, especially as the trees transform from green to their brilliant colors on their way towards hibernation. Her poem, “When I am Among the Trees” has occupied me for some days now:
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”
I do believe that we are called into the world, to hold fast to the slower, deeper mystery that is us. Most of us want to do right, to hold dear, to see the goodness that “give(s) off such hints of gladness”. This simple desire to make and keep the world whole and shining is, I dare say, our shared theology.
My colleague, Rev. Kathleen McTigue, wrote of Mary Oliver, “By that word [theology] I mean not only what her poems reflect of her beliefs about God, but what they reflect about a host of other religious questions: What is holy? Who are we? What are we called to do with our lives? What is death, and how do we understand it when we turn our faces toward its inevitability? These questions matter to all of us.”
And the answers to these questions are around us still, even in this scared and sacred time. We will transform, not as effortlessly as the seasons, but no less certain. Take courage friends, we are not so distant from hope after all.
Yours always, Rev. John