By Rev. Canon Renee
Driving through the desert landscape I am always in awe of its stark, raw, rugged beauty. It is a study in contrasts. Life and death. Hope and despair. Wonder and emptiness. Safety and fear. These contrasts are part of all landscapes, to be sure. But in the desert there is a difference. In the desert there is less chance for illusion. Once cannot hide behind life in order to avoid death, one cannot rest completely in hope and wonder and safety without being equally aware of despair, emptiness and fear. There is a palpable poignancy in the desert that life cannot be easily compartmentalized. It must be taken as a whole – a unity – a oneness. As I drove on Wednesday morning through the desert following the frightening and fanatic events of Tuesday, two small mountains in the desert horizon were covered in shadow and stood out completely black in the midst of an otherwise opalescent and bright sun-filled sky. Two black hills that seemed both out of place and yet, strangely, in place. Had they always been there and I had simply never seen them before? Or, had I seen them but not really taken notice? Could such shadows occur amidst a cloudless sky? It seemed to me, at that moment, that these two black hills had been birthed in a night – as if to bear witness to the incomprehensible blackness of Tuesday, September 11. Their witness was, however, more than simply a remembrance of horror – their witness proclaimed again what the desert always proclaims. There are no illusions. There is both life and death, hope and despair, wonder and emptiness, safety and fear. To deny this truth is to live – but only partly live. To exist in a half-life.
I thought also of Jesus’ parable about the wheat and the tares. Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven was like a man who sowed good seed in his field, but in the night the enemy came and planted weeds in with the wheat and hurried away. When the wheat began to grow, the weeds grew with it. The servants came to the sower to tell him about the weeds. The sower knew immediately that an enemy had been in his field. Te servants asked if they should go and pull the weeds. The sower’s answer goes against everything we know about growing crops. He said, ‘no, don’t pull the weeds out for you might accidentally also pull out the good wheat. Let the wheat and the weeds grow together until the harvest – then it will all get sorted out.’ (Matthew 13:24-30. Somehow in the Divine Economy, all must dwell together until all is eternally transformed.
The events of September 11 that so shocked, shattered and stunned every American seemed surreal and simply beyond comprehension. We were rudely awakened from our half-life by a series of actions that have left us reeling and grieving even as try to return to a sense of normalcy. Being awakened from a half-life has been for me, and I suspect for many of you, a somber, sobering experience.
I was surprised by my own initial reactions to September 11. Of course, I felt the shock and the terror of it all. But throughout the day, I would go to the window and look out on the desert landscape--- there the mountains stood as still as stone, just as they had the day before. There the sun shone, and the quail still scratched the sand. It seemed as though the horror affecting so many in New York and Washington D.C., and Somerset Pennsylvania, was still so very far from my front door. My little world was continuing on even as others were being subjected to the most devastating nightmare they had, or probably ever would, encounter. Prayers were natural to me, but by Wednesday morning, all that reigned over my soul was silence – a deep interior silence – where words cannot be formed on the tongue, where the heart seems parched and still, where the only word is ‘why?’ And, in fact, that was exactly what an acquaintance asked me that Wednesday morning. “Why would God let this happen. What is your answer to that?” My answer to him and to you is that God is not the one who is to blame for these tragedies. It is the evil and hardness of heart that lies within human beings that is at the bottom of these tragedies. As the day wore on, I realized that the question “why?” that has lain in so many of our broken hearts this past week is the very question that will make it possible for us to revive from the dullness of a half-life. It is the signal that we have been roused and made ready to participate in a human enterprise greater than any we could ever have believed possible.
That human enterprise is none other than choosing how our hearts and souls will respond to the terrible truth that evil and good are dwelling together -- like the weeds and the wheat -- and that somehow in the vastness of God, both will be transformed into grace and life and peace. I use the word ‘choosing’ very deliberately. No matter what the governmental response will be, our hearts and souls still have their own choices to make. We must choose our own personal response to the evil and hardness of heart we see around us and to the evil and hardness in our own hearts. “Ah, that seems such strong language,” you may be thinking. “Where is the evil and hardness in our hearts? It is we who have been ‘done unto.’ We are not the perpetrators of this horrific sacrifice of human life.” No, we are not the perpetrators. Yes, we are, in this instance, the ones who have been ‘done unto.’ But the evil will live on or be stopped by the choices we make regarding the response of our own hearts and souls.
In our New Testament reading from I Timothy
this morning, I was struck by these words: “I am grateful for Christ
Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful
and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer,
a persecutor and a man of violence. But I received mercy because
I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed
for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying
is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the
world to save sinners – of whom I am the foremost.” Paul, a man of
violence, was shown mercy by the overflowing of God’s love. I do
not presume to make any judgment about how our government will and even
should respond to the events of September 11. But, as a Christian,
who herself has received mercy through Christ's love, I am bound to examine
my own heart and soul and choose if I will or will not be a part of the
mission of Christ to restore all to unity with God. I am bound to
examine my own heart and soul and choose if I will allow hatred to grow
in my heart and destroy the mission of peace. I am bound to examine
my own heart and soul and choose if I will feel the same horror at the
travesties of war that others in the world encounter daily, as I do the
travesties of war I have now experienced in my own country. I am
bound to examine my own heart and soul and choose if I will have enough
faith to pray for my enemies as well as for those who suffer at the hands
of my enemies. I am bound to examine my own heart and soul and choose
to see if, in the vast landscape of God’s love, I can have the courage
to let even a sliver of love begin to grow in my heart for all human beings
– even those who may be evil and whose hearts may be hardened. And,
I can tell you – the examination of one’s own heart and soul and the choices
that must be made in these matters is not easy. It is gut-wrenching
work. Yet, of this one thing you can be sure, as long as there is
hatred in our hearts there can be no peace.
Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali Indian poet wrote a poem in 1932 that seems surprisingly applicable to this war waging in our country and in our own hearts.
God, again and again through the ages you
have sent messengers
To this pitiless world:
They have said, ‘Forgive everyone’, they have said, ‘Love one another—
Rid your hearts of evil.’
They are revered and remembered, yet still in these dark days
We turn them away with hollow greetings, from outside the doors of our houses.
And meanwhile I see secretive hatred murdering
Under cover of night;
And justice weeping silently and furtively at power misused,
No hope of redress.
I see young men working themselves into a frenzy
In agony dashing their heads against stone to no avail.
My voice is choked today; I have no music
in my flute:
Black moonless night
Has imprisoned my world, plunged it into nightmare. And this is why,
With tears in my eyes, I ask:
Those who have poisoned your air, those who extinguished your light,
Can it be that you have forgiven them? Can it be that you love them?
I am here to tell you that God’s love is so much greater than any evil, destruction, or reckless ruin that humans can pour on one another. We will, in time, know again the wonder of God’s great love. We will, in time, know again the wonder of God’s great peace. We will, if we can haltingly crawl the path, find that we ourselves can be the flutes of unity and peace. We will, if we can bring forth words from arid hearts and parch’ed tongues, we will find that the only way that evil can ever be overcome, is through an increase of love. And that love must begin with you and with me.
(Sing Hymn #607)
Keep bright in us the vision of days when war shall cease,
When hatred and division give way to love and peace,
Till dawns the morning glorious when truth and justice reign
And Christ shall rule victorious o’er all the world’s domain.
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