Remain Courageous in Our Efforts
By The Rev. Allie Perry as previously published in the New Haven Register’s “Faith Matters” column on December 22, 2019 and with her permission
As I sit down to compose this column, I am keenly aware of my own cognitive dissonance. This is the “season to be jolly,” a celebration of light that is neither overcome nor extinguished, a time heralded by angelic choruses of “peace on earth, good will toward all.” But I am not feeling particularly jolly; I am noticing instead that more often these days I am angry.
It has been said that anger is a sign that something is amiss. God knows, there are plenty of things amiss in this country right now. These are sobering and perilous times, with our democracy, the rule of law, and the integrity of our Constitution hanging in the balance. Beneath my anger I am noticing a deeper emotion: grief. I am heartbroken over so much: the wanton devastation of the environment and consequent threat to life as we have known it, more than 10,000 migrant children separated from their parents and detained in cages, the mind-numbing gun violence and the stranglehold of the NRA, corporate greed, and much more. What has happened to civility? Compassion? Our humanity? Where is our moral compass? Is there no longer a social contract? Do we still have a soul?
It is as if our nation has become a case study of an empire devolving, demonstrating, in the words of the theologian Walter Brueggemann, “ that acquisitiveness leads to violence, that militarization leads to bankruptcy, that consumerism leads to the evaporation of citizenship, that ecological exploitation leads to chaotic weather, that silencing leads to brutality, and that exceptionalism leads to white tribalism.”
In times like these I take counsel, if not comfort, from the insight of prophets and poets, those with the capacity to peer into the heart of things and with the courage to speak their truth not just to power but also in love.
Almost 50 years ago, the writer and poet Madeline L’Engle in her poem “Advent 1971” wrote this: “O woe to you people/ you sleep through the thunder/ you heed not the warnings/ the fires and the drownings/ the earthquakes and stormings/ and ignorant armies/ and dark closing on you/ the song birds are falling/ the sea birds are dying/ no fish now are leaping/ the children are choking/ in air not for breathing/ the aged are gasping/ with no one to tend them/ a bright star has blazed forth/ and no one has seen it/ and no one has awakened.”
Prescient? Or did L’Engle have the insight to read the signs of the times, visible for all with eyes to see, and ears to hear? Her poem is a cautionary tale for those who are not awake, those who are sleepwalking through life, those who are complacent and compliant. Woe to us if we are not heeding dire warnings. Woe to us if we are missing bright stars of promise, visions of blessing, signs of hope.
The sine qua non of faith is precisely this: wakefulness, paying attention, being mindful, or in the words of the Jesuit Walter Burghardt, “taking a long loving look at the real.” That “long loving look” for me, right now, is evoking anger at and grief over the way things are. So, yes, I am not feeling “jolly.”
But I am also not without hope. St. Augustine once observed that “Hope has two beautiful daughters: their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”
I love the idea that hope is generative, that it labors to bring forth in us the full-bodied and complementary emotions of anger and courage. The presence of each makes clear that we expect different, that we insist on better, that we will neither accept nor resign ourselves to the way things currently are, and that we imagine, and are committed to work for, a more just, equitable, loving, harmonious society.
This season reminds us that there is a reality alternative (again quoting Madeline L’Engle) to “the earth betrayed by war and hate,” to “honor and truth ... trampled by scorn,” to the reign of a Herod and his heartless and callous state policies. There is an alternative. And that is the reality of the inbreaking of God’s reign where justice prevails for all, all creation flourishes, and the only currency is love. May we stay awake, focusing our “long loving look” also on the promise of this reality. And then until it is so, may we abide in hope, unapologetic about our anger at the way things are and courageous in our efforts to work for peace on earth and goodwill toward all.
The Rev. Allie Perry is the worship coordinator of Shalom UCC, New Haven and a wonderful friend of Mercy by the Sea.