The poet Mark Nepo writes, “Like gravity, the presence and impact of suffering in this world is an element we cannot escape.” And yet, the root word of suffering means “to feel keenly,” as if to say suffering, as discomforting and even frightening as it can seem, is also an invitation to be in this life together with one another, to be present and open to one another, to feel intentionally. While feeling keenly is what opens us to suffering, it is also what opens us to beauty, love, and joy. It is an inescapable mystery of life, it seems — we can’t have the one without the other.
The “preacher” in Ecclesiastes appears to understand this paradox of reality when he writes, “To everything there is a season — a time for every purpose under heaven . . . including a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” Our lives are filled with periods of great joy and great sorrow. “It seems very much like the nature of water,” Nepo continues. “We can’t say, ‘I’d prefer the hydrogen only, please.’ Once you separate the elements, it is no longer water. It is no longer life-giving. It seems impossible to separate joy from sorrow in life.” Though, it does seem clear, there are steps we can take to limit some of the suffering we inflict upon one another.
And perhaps this is the challenge. In the midst of our fear and our sorrow, and even our numbness, to remember our place in God’s creation, to reconnect with God with a time of reflection and silence, present to this chaos, as confusing and numbing as it can be. And to remember that we are deeply interdependent with all of life and one another. There is no escaping this fact, no matter how much we wish to revel in our culture of rugged individualism and personal freedoms. Like water, we are also part of the mysterious, complex, and beautiful makeup of each other’s lives. In this sense, certainly we are responsible as much as we are “response able” to make a difference.
Our faith is rooted in such historical, response able, ethical guidelines for our living together — the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ teaching regarding the commandments to love God deeply and our neighbor as ourselves, to pray for our enemies and love the stranger. The Apostle Paul closes his letter to the Church at Phillipi with these words — words of encouragement as much as they are also words of comfort:
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.”
I would only add to that this simple but profound poem, written by Michael Leunig, that has always offered me a prayerful way forward when no way seems present:
“Let it go. Let it out.
Let it all unravel.
Let it free and it can be.
A path on which to travel.”
I hope to see you this Sunday as we explore the Ten Commandments in new and unexpected ways, to shed some hopeful light on our living in this complex, violent, and yet amazingly beautiful world together!
This Sunday, in eleven:eleven, October 8
“The next right thing we do”
Rev. Tom McDermott
Also, remember to fill out our current church survey, Focus First. These are due by October 20 and all our input is important as the church determines ways to clarify its vision for the future in a growing downtown community. You can find the survey here as well as info on signing up for one of the four Focus First Conversation Groups. These will be essential to where our church goes from here and the kinds of ministries the church will continue or redefine. So I encourage your participation at one of these group gatherings. The first is this Sunday, October 8, at 12:30 pm.