One night I was watching on my TV the American Ballet Company perform Balachine’s work “Symphony in C”. The orchestra was producing ripples of sound and the dancers were rippling across the stage in the beautiful geometric arrangements that are Balachine’s forte when outside my window an ambulance siren wailed, moving rapidly down the street. I thought how beauty can be cut across by sorrow.
“Why can’t we just have beauty?” I petulantly wondered? Why can’t sorrow stay away and leave me entirely filled with the rippling of cellos and the leaping of dancers?
Why does trouble have to stick its head into my reverie like that?
These days in the wider world around me, I feel barraged by sirens declaring trouble.
My values, even the basic rules by which my country has over and over found its way when besieged by injustice and slammed by hatred:
right now it feels that so many of these are in danger of being trampled under the runaway herd of greed and self-aggrandizement of those who hold power in their hands.
It’s so overwhelming to me that I am buried under the outrageous onslaught and can’t seem to find my way out. I am numb and rendered ineffective.
If those statements seem hyperbolic or overwrought, they don’t feel so to me. In one recent weekend in Chicago where I live, three children were slaughtered by random or deliberate gunfire from people who had nothing to do with those little ones.
They were collateral damage in the mania of teenage wars of self-aggrandizement aided and abetted by adults refusing to keep guns out of the hands of these youth.
Chicago had previously had laws forbidding carrying concealed weapons and had been confiscating guns from juveniles and others who had no permits. But the courts said “No, no. That is against the Second Amendment.”
So now the guns are even more prevalent and, as our police chief has constantly pointed out, those who commit crimes with guns are returned to the streets to do it again and again and again.
And those of us who live there hear the sirens and wonder if our beloved ones are next.
My granddaughters and a passel of their cousins live in the city, and some of those cousins have parents who are in danger of being deported.
Shock – stasis – ineffective -caught in the web of disbelief.
In his speech accepting the John F. Kennedy Profiles of Courage Award, President Obama noted that “The arc of life may bend toward justice, but it doesn’t bend by itself. Only our hands can bend it.”
I didn’t know where I was going to get the energy to continue bending.
That’s how I felt until the first week in February when I went to hear Sister Simone Cambell speak. She’s better known to most of us as the nun on the bus.
She organized the members of her religious order to rent a bus and go around the country promoting the passage of the Affordable Care Act. This Order of Catholic Sisters even stated that birth control should be offered as part of the Act’s benefits because no matter what their own Catholic hierarchy declared about birth control, it isn’t their place to tell others what religious conclusions to follow.
This is a group of courageous women who get out there and do what their conscience calls them to do. Pope Benedict did try to silence them, by the way. But he died…..
So I entered the room where she was to speak seeking help to undo my stasis, my feeling of emptiness and ineffectiveness in the face of so much building up before me.
The world needs help, but I didn’t feel I could give it.
And Sister Simone did help. She dipped her finger in the water and cooled my tongue.
She led me beside invigorating waters.
And I am here to offer some of that to you today.
Sister Simone offered a checklist of what was needed to face this onslaught of needs.
She has been doing such work for years. We asked her why she was not burned out. And she gave us her checklist for maintaining action in the face of overwhelming needs.
First, she pointed out that we need the ability to maintain long-term tension with the powers that be.
You have probably heard that ministry is the art of comforting the troubled and troubling the comfortable. And each of us has a ministry to do that. You do do it every day…. You comfort the troubled, whether it be to bandage a skinned knee, to hold someone in grief, or to provide a meal at the end of the day.
You probably yell at the television when some of our elected officials are so dense about the problems that face us – some seem to live in another world than the one we do, a world populated by people who think the answers are easy.
Maybe you read and educate yourself about what is happening in the world in order to find your own way through.
Maybe you address your child’s teacher when your child has been bullied. Maybe you support your teachers when a city says they have to take a pay cut but not a cut in the time they spend teaching the leaders of our future.
Maybe you thank your children or grandchildren’s teachers for what they are doing.
Maybe you thank the person in your congregation who is working for justice.
All these little things are ways to transform the world – to trouble those who would undermine our values.
Maintain tension with the powers that are undermining your values in any way you can.
To do this over the long run, Sister Simone listed four things to keep at hand for the journey.
Memory, Touch, Hope and Effective discourse.
Memory, Touch, Hope, and Effective discourse.
Maintain a long memory, she said. We need to remember for what we are living and when and where it has been good.
We need to touch the pain of the world. It is painful, even heart-breaking to do that, but only when your heart is broken open can you admit those who need you, just as you would want them to admit you when all seems lost.
Only vulnerability allows love to grow. “someone” says Sister Simone, “someone in our society needs to be weeping or we are only hardening our hearts.”
Hope. When we break open our hearts and embrace those who are weeping, then hope arises between us. There is not only the joined path into pain but also the rising of care and love that are able to heal. We are all in this together, It’s the together that can bring hope and bring about change.
We also need to find what stimulates hope in our own being.
Is it being re-attached to the natural world – feeling grasses beneath or feet, seeing the blue sky above or tasting rain in a parched land? Sometimes I feel hope when I water my plants – I give then nourishment and I feel empowered myself.
Sometimes beauty can inspire me, can quicken the feelings of joy and admiration and well-being, whether it is through music or art or dance or pausing to take in a sunset.
I love watching children on a playground – such joy abounds when my littlest granddaughter is pushed in a swing! Her laughter is a dose of hope.
Doing something like that everyday builds up that long memory of hope – a treasure chest that we need. And those memories can also be a daily dose of hope – remembering a child’s gleeful laugh can energize me. What does it for you?
The effective discourse that builds transformative action needs to be across generations, cultures, religions, political leanings, etc.
It doesn’t just mean meeting with like-minded folks. It means the harder work of meeting with those who seem different from you.
I love what Obama said in his last address to the nation – if someone appears different or to hold differing views from yours, what about meeting face to face, not just tweeting or on Facebook.
What a thought!
Rev. Emmy Lou Belcher
Marquette UU Church
Mothers’ Day 2017