My Dearest Readers…

In the wake of another terror-inspired attack on American soil, I share excerpts of the sermon, The Practice of Peace, A Service of Healing in a Time of Tragedy, that I preached whilst rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, on September 16, 2001, the Sunday immediately following 9/11.

As I review and reflect on the words I uttered then, they continue to resonate within me as expressive of what I believe to be God’s way and will in what I perceive to be our increasingly dangerously wildly woolly world – replete, generally I see, with violence of all sorts in all places at all times and, particularly I think, with an American presidential campaign laden with elements of isolationism and nationalism of a prejudicial kind.

At the least, these words bespeak how I strive to live, which, in the truest sense, is always the most I daily can do.

Love, Paul

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…In our quest for a restoration of wholeness, tensions – those simultaneous, powerful counter pulls and pushes of thought and feeling within society and within our individual selves – abound…

On one side, we yearn to live in a free society “of the people, by the people, for the people”, where one’s words and actions are not overly circumscribed or overtly constrained by law. On another side, in such a society not only are the just and the righteous free, but also the unjust and the unrighteous. And we have been reminded tragically that terrorism is no longer…in some land far away, but daily festers and can flare up on our very doorstep. Hence, we long to feel safe, to be safe, which, if past responses to tragedy are any indication, often requires the imposition of restrictions…on our freedom and perhaps on our privacy…

On one side, we desire to get to “the other side” of our grieving, to reach, once again, that state of normalcy, that sense of personal safety. On another side, we recognize, even now, that when we get there, our senses of normalcy and safety will be illusory. We always are personally vulnerable, our choices notwithstanding, to changing circumstance and uncontrollable chance…

On one side, there are those who, in the midst of crisis, seek the sustaining hand of God with a faith that continues to hope in the constancy of divine care in spite of or even because of all appearances to the contrary. On another side, there are those who have no use for God. If religion, a theological enterprise concerned with the relationship between divinity and humanity, can be seen in any way to have been a trigger for this tragedy, as has been proven in multiple tragedies in human history, then one might fairly ask what good can come out of religion? Indeed, what good is God? Or one may wonder who is this God in whose name such violence is inspired or what is this human hubris that fashions a vengeful face of God?

We search for peace.

Jesus speaks of a peace “not as the world gives.” [1] This is a spiritual peace that points to the end, for it is the peace of eternal salvation, of Jesus’ abiding presence, of an unassailable, inseparable connection between earth and cosmos, humanity and divinity, now and forever. Today, however, I look not to eschatological end times, but rather at our now times, looking for a pathway to this peace.

This peace has nothing to do with the avoidance of trial or the absence of tribulation, but rather with our acknowledgement of our troubles. This peace has nothing to do with our bringing an end to our tensions and a beginning of some sentimental spirit of well-being, but rather with our facing and our wrestling with all that torments us, both from without and from within.

This peace has everything to do with our reaching constantly around the barriers we erect to keep out all that disturbs us, reaching across boundaries of difference…internal and external between our faith and our fears, our hunger for security and our acknowledgement of countless circumstances beyond…our control.  Around barriers and across boundaries racial and cultural, among black, brown, red, white, and yellow and, yes, between America and the Arab world.  Around barriers and across boundaries philosophical and theological, among Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others.

This peace has everything to do with our constant embrace of “the other” beyond tolerance in a bond of mutual acceptance, understanding, and respect, even celebration. This peace has everything to do with a vision of radical diversity and inclusivity…

This is the peace of God that passes all understanding,[2] for it makes no sense to embrace difference, particularly at times of turmoil and tragedy when our human instinct is not diversity and inclusion, but rather seclusion and exclusion.

Is the pathway to this peace comfortable? No. Is it even desirable in accord with our human druthering? No. Yet, in the words of the hymn, this is “the peace of God (that) is no peace, but strife closed in the sod.” Yet, also in the words of that hymn and in the words of our hearts, “let us pray for but one thing — the marvelous peace of God.”[3]

 

Footnotes:

[1] John 14.27

[2] Philippians 4.7

[3] From the hymn, They cast their nets in Galilee, The Hymnal 1982, #661, verse 4.

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2 thoughts on “My Dearest Readers…

  1. Paul,

    Love this! Of course you know that I’ve read this sermon before. Reading it this time however, I wish of course I had been a member of St. Mark’s then so I could have heard it in person.

    It’s amazing how valid and timely this sermon is today, just as if you had written it for our world right now. We have so many walls and barriers up AND one of the Presidential candidates wants more walls!! What’s going to move us to diversity and inclusion?? There’s so much seclusion and exclusion… And it’s bolder and more in your face than anything I’ve seen in my
    lifetime. (I was just a little kid in the early 60’s and 9 years old when MLK was killed). These days folks do even try to hide their hate and discontent. We sure seem to be going in the wrong direction.

    That said…One of the things I love about your blog is that even though the topic can be tough, you always leave us with some hope. At least that’s how I read it. So I’ll try to wait a little longer for the “marvelous peace of God” because we certainly need it. So I thank you for that!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Loretta, as you’ve written (and said) many times, writing is a way, at this moment in your life, yes, to express yourself and, in that, to help and guide you through your grief.

    I believe in much the same way that writing this blog allows me – calls me! – to search and find glimmers of hope where and when I, given my fundamental pessimism, might not either by not seeing it or ignoring it when I do see it.

    I have come to suspect that within me there resides a wellspring of hope – not wishful thinking of declaring my desires in the face of all I cannot command or control, but rather my faith, my confidence, my trust in a loving providential God who has revealed in Jesus who God is and who we are meant to be. Writing helps me discover and rediscover that inward fount of Spirit-blessing.

    As for waiting for the “marvelous peace of God,” one of our callings, I believe, is that we continue to reach out to “the other”, even and especially when the course of human events and societal trends dictate or advise otherwise. In so doing, I also believe, we stand on the side of the angels.

    Like

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