I recently overheard my thirteen-year-old son answering a friend who had asked him how he was, “The whole country is on fire and we’re about to have World War Three! How do you think I am going?”
His reply hung in the air, like the smoke from the fires, as I pondered Christmas just gone and the season of Epiphany we have just entered. In the Orthodox tradition, ‘Epiphany’ is called the ‘Theophany’ (“God shining forth”) and the lectionary gives us plenty of readings where we are invited to see where God might be shining forth in the world and in our lives.
My son’s reply echoed the feeling of many who struggle to see where God might be “shining forth” amidst the catastrophic fires, the loss of life and property, the increasing despair globally about climate change and now the rising tension between Iran and the US. One of my favourite cartoonists put it this way, “The pain and the terror of these bushfires cannot be held in a single human heart.”
This reminded me of something Archbishop Desmond Tutu is supposed to have once said: “God, I know that you are in control – I just wish that you would make it a little more obvious.” In other words, if the Messiah has come, when will things start to look better? When will the lowly be lifted up? When will the wheat be separated from the chaff? When will the sick be healed, the prisoners be released and the swords be beaten into ploughshares?
It is possible to become trapped in a downwards spiral of these sorts of questions.
For such times, Jewish wisdom in The Talmud offers this, “Do not be daunted by the magnitude of the world’s grief. Act justly now. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” In other words, rather than being overwhelmed, find the thing that you can do: you might contribute to an appeal for money, volunteer your time or simply commit to doing a little research before sharing a social media post. During our recent family holiday to the Solomon Islands we felt a little overwhelmed by the great need we saw in so many places: our response has been to start a GoFundMe page to raise money for one project – a small medical clinic funded by the local church. We cannot do everything, but we can do something.
Centuries ago the German mystic Meister Eckhart wrote, “We are all meant to be mothers of God. For God is always needing to be born.” If Eckhart is correct, that somehow God is always needing to be born into the world, then the incarnation becomes God’s invitation for us to join with God in the transformation of this world; making the kingdom of heaven – the hope and dream of God – a present reality for this earth.
In his recent Epiphany homily Pope Francis spoke of what becomes possible when we find the courage to trust God even in times such as these, of allowing “Jesus to heal and to change us…to transform us by His love, to kindle light amid our darkness, to grant us strength in weakness, and courage amid trials.”
However, there are times when it is too much, when it is too difficult and sometimes we simply have to let others do the believing for us. One of the great gifts of the Church is that there are always others with far more faith than me who can do the believing when I find it too hard, until I find myself able to believe again. Sometimes it is enough to rest into the tradition, to let the liturgy or the prayers of others wash over us until we are rested enough, brave enough, to believe again.Jump to next article