Dear Sisters and Brothers –
I read something this week written by the Quaker Parker Palmer I’d like to share with you. He writes:
For those of us who want to see democracy survive and thrive – and we are legion – the heart is where everything begins: that grounded place in each of us where we can overcome fear, rediscover that we are members of one another, and embrace the conflicts that threaten democracy as openings to new life for us and for our nation …
Of all the tensions we must hold in personal and political life, perhaps the most fundamental and most challenging is standing and acting with hope in the ‘tragic gap.’ On one side of that gap, we see the hard realities of the world, realities that can crush our spirits and defeat our hopes. On the other side of that gap, we see real-world possibilities, life as we know it could be because we have seen it that way …
If we are to stand and act with hope in the tragic gap and do it for the long haul, we cannot settle for mere “effectiveness” as the ultimate measure of our failure or success. Yes, we want to be effective in pursuit of important goals … [But] we must judge ourselves by a higher standard than effectiveness, the standard called faithfulness. Are we faithful to the community on which we depend, to doing what we can in response to its pressing needs? Are we faithful to the better angels of our nature and to what they call forth from us? Are we faithful to the eternal conversation of the human race, to speaking and listening in a way that takes us closer to truth? Are we faithful to the call of courage that summons us to witness to the common good, even against great odds? When faithfulness is our standard, we are more likely to sustain our engagement with tasks that will never end: doing justice, loving mercy, and calling the beloved community into being.
This resonates with me because of its connection to the first reading for Mass last Tuesday, Election Day, which came from the St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. St. Paul writes that Jesus,
though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and, found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
As I sat with that majestic hymn to prepare for Mass that morning, I was reminded once more that the Incarnation is the ultimate sign of God’s love. After centuries of sending the prophets to the Israelites to remind them of God’s unconditional love and to call them back into relationship with God, without fruitfulness, God, in Jesus, surrendered all divine power and privilege to become one of us, and entered into the messiness of human nature.
I think that’s key, that Jesus came into our human experience not because all was good and as it should be. Rather, Jesus came because of brokenness and sin, because of estrangement and misery. Consequently, both in my own life and in the lives of those I’ve counseled, it’s been a fruitful exercise when looking for Jesus to examine – and even enter into – the messiness in our own lives and that of the world around us to find him.
I write this because I believe Jesus stands with us in Parker Palmer’s “tragic gap,” as individuals and as a country, as we navigate the hard realities of division, inequity, and hurt, and a life as we know it could be – one of common purpose, unity, justice and peace. The life, I believe, God wants for us.
I think you and I have a role in the weeks ahead modeled on the one played by John the Baptist. In the first chapter of the Gospel of John, the Baptist is standing with two of his disciples when Jesus walks by. John points him out and says, “There is the Lamb of God.” That’s our role. It is incumbent upon us, as disciples of Jesus, to make an effort in our prayer, to beg for the grace, to actively try to notice where in the “tragic gap” Jesus is.
Where in the messiness of our individual lives is he, and where in our communal and civic life is he? Where and how is he trying to heal, to bring peace and assurance, to comfort? Where and how is he gently but firmly calling us to be our best selves, to be his presence in our world, to champion the common good? Not only are we called to do this for ourselves, but as fellow disciples of Jesus and companions to one another, we are called to help one another to notice him as well, because so often we need that encouragement and assistance as human beings.
You hear me say often that we know the end of the story, what it is to heal that “tragic gap,” and that is healing, reconciliation and new life. Let us pray for the grace to notice how Jesus is bringing that about even now, in our hearts and in our country.
God bless you and keep you safe and healthy.
Oremus pro invicem.