Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Let’s take a deep breath and remind ourselves of a few basics.
When we were babies, the world didn’t make much sense, but we didn’t know that it should make sense. Things happened on their own, and much of life played out like scenes from a disjointed movie. You had few expectations that included an idea that is you cried or made other noises, someone would come and fix your problems. You would be taken to a place with things to look at, or a place to be fed, a place to be changed, and place to rest. The best part was looking at faces that looked back at you, and the feelings of being held, being changed, and being fed. The worst parts were discomfort and pain. Life is something that happened to you.
Later on, we were small children and there were choices to make. We would choose how to stack the blocks or how to swirl the crayons on paper. There was a choice of sitting where we were or getting up and looking somewhere nearby. We were still very passive, but we were aware that someone was nearby and watching over us. Occasionally, we would go over and look at the faces of the people who were watching us, whether it was mother, father, sister, or someone else. Sometimes, the big people would lift us up and read us a book or just talk to us. Familiar faces were comforting, but the faces of strangers worried us.
As we got to be even older, days seemed more like stories with beginnings, middles, and ends. We started to learn there was a big world with lots of things happening. There were places that were fun to anticipate, like visits to a playground or Granny’s house, but there were a lot of places and people that were scary. The most important things seemed to be the list of things that you shouldn’t do. Don’t play with scissors, don’t go near strange dogs, don’t leave the yard, don’t make too much noise in church, don’t throw your food, don’t climb too high, don’t hurt people or animals, and don’t go near the street.
As we moved onto being older children, and then into adulthood, the world made more and more sense, or at least we knew how things seemed to work. We learned that people are complicated and moody, but that it was harder to deal with our own moods. We could also get in trouble by saying the wrong word or having the wrong attitude. Somewhere along the line, we learned to behave in ways that seemed normal to other people. And we each found ways of coping with our daily life, even if it included going to school and doing chores.
As adults, we learned how to live with all sorts of little changes, and we were capable of making decisions about what we believed and how we wanted to respond our world. As far as faith went, some of us just kept going to church because it seemed like the right thing to do, some of us stopped going to church because it never made much sense to us, and some of us began journeys that seemed to suggest that God was one of those things or people we had to understand if we were ever going to understand ourselves. And for a smaller number, some were led to church and God because it involved an overwhelming experience of love, joy, or sweet mystery.
But as the world is involved in huge changes, all of our lives are thrown into an uncomfortable place were nothing feels normal or safe. Some of us are feeling the bewilderment of small children, while others feel anxiety about who we are and what kind of story we are in. Because nearly everybody has a story that they tell of their lives, but what do you do with a chapter that suddenly seems like a plague story from 1919, a depression story from 1932, or something out of science fiction or political satire?
The biography you were writing day by day with your “normal” habits and behavior has suddenly shifted gears and made a tight turn. So, the next chapters you had to imagined will have to be adjusted.
The world hasn’t changed so much as we are changing how we see the world. There has always been the threat of pandemic, but we have lived through a fortunate century. Every political system has periods of failure. Every economy is hit by some major disaster every few generations. Your attitudes about how safe and normal the world is… is something inside you.
I find comfort in the fact that reality doesn’t change based on our beliefs. Whatever you think of the natural and spiritual worlds, you have to admit that they aren’t changed by your opinion. When a scientist discovers a new particle, it was something that was always there. When a person stops believing in God, it does not change God. When a person becomes a Christian it does not change Jesus.
The word of comfort I have for you is this: Back when you were a baby, you believed that if you cried out, help would come. You were right. When you were a small child, you were aware that someone was watching over you. You were right. When you were older still, you understood that some behaviors should be avoided because they brought pain to you or others. You were right. As an adult you began to see that your life was a big story made of little stories. You were right, but maybe you were not the only person telling that story. As an adult, you learned to cope with all sorts of little changes. That was preparing you for today and all your tomorrows. My understanding of reality is that someone is still meeting our needs, someone is still watching over you, and someone is still hoping you will make good decisions, because your decisions change the way you see the world.
Here are a few words from Psalm 139, written by King David:
You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
Don’t be trapped by your belief or disbelief. They do not affect the reality of the world or the reality of God. They only affect how you feel in the world. Electrons don’t need my belief. What is most affected by my belief is how I share in friendship, how I am able to participate in loving relationships, and whether I am able to receive strength, joy, and meaning from God.
For many of us, experience tells us that love is part of the deepest reality. Faithful love and its source, God, are everywhere to be felt and trusted.
For the sake of your ability to cope and to tell a joyful story of your life, trust love and trust Love.
I can’t prove to you that love and God are real.
“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.”
But if you ever want to cope well and be hopeful, trust God’s love.