The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg has sent a shock wave of grief and anxiety throughout much of the nation. She was an outstanding woman, a strong and steady person of intellect and integrity. Her passing is a huge loss, especially at this critical time when wisdom and steadiness are so greatly needed. Already there is a rush to fill the office adding to the anger and division that roils the nation, which most likely will increase down the road.
It is obvious that the levels of anxiety and fear are running high.
That fact was clearly demonstrated for me at a recent Creation Care Zoom meeting when the chairperson announced that the next meeting would be November 16th. Someone casually remarked that meeting would be after the election. Several people expressed agitation and anxiety saying, “I don’t even want to think about it!”
There are lots of strong feelings all through our society.
The question is how are we going to deal with these feelings? We must manage them in constructive and healthy ways. If we do not, they will further rip us apart as persons and as a society. We need to be careful not to go past a tipping point beyond which anger and anxiety change us into something we never intended to be or become. What are we to do?
I have some thoughts to share though no definite answers.
First, what we have been experiencing is like being hit with two hurricanes at once. One is Covid and the other is an ongoing crisis at the highest levels of governance in the land. These hurricanes have hit us hard and continue to pound our boats. The systems of thought and practice that we rely upon have become unmoored. We are now being tossed to and fro upon violent waters.
In the Gospel of Matthew (14:28-31) is an image of what happens when people are taken over by their anxiety and fear. Jesus is walking on the water toward the disciples who are in a boat. Peter wishes to step out and meet Jesus on the water. At the bidding of Jesus, he steps out but noticing the strength of the wind he becomes frightened. Beginning to sink he cries out to Jesus, “Lord save me!” Jesus reaches out his hand and catches him, saying, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
This is a complex text but I will nevertheless point to one simple teaching. Peter was doing fine until he focused on the intensity of the storm and therefore away from Jesus. At that point he started going down and in panic called to out to Jesus.
Currently, we have been so taken in by the strength of the winds and words whipping around that we have focused almost exclusively on the storm. We have taken our eyes off of the Lord, the source of our strength and steadiness, and now find ourselves starting to sink.
Taking our focus off of the source of our faith and strength, or having no faith core at all, is one of the problems of living in what Charles Taylor, in his book Secular Age, talks about. We have become unmoored from the faith which has in the past has kept us steady. We have broken loose and are being tossed about in the angry and tumultuous seas of our time.
A corrective can be found in a return to the sources.
We need look at our faith sources with new eyes and rediscover the depth, steadiness and wisdom they offer us. To do this in any meaningful way means we need to be open, willing and patient before the Word and the practices which nourish our soul in ways the secular world alone cannot. This is not to say we need to set the secular aside. The secular and the sacred go together, however we cannot look to only one of them to meet all our needs. The ancient sources need to be read as they speak to us in the context of our time. In doing so, one can be surprised by the relevance of texts for us today.
St. Paul provides us with counsel that leads us into sanity and strength.
We would do well to ponder anew St. Paul’s words in his letter to the Romans in Chapter 12, where he counsels,
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
The renewing of heart, mind, body and soul is how we strengthen ourselves so we can live in the world without being ground up and destroyed. Further on, in chapter 12:9-21, Paul sets forth a brief section on ethics. It is a little longer than I wish to quote so I will let you read it for yourself. If you do so, you will find it to be powerful and to the point as it speaks to us today.
Paul’s ethical teaching culminates with the words: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Thomas Merton is also a source that speaks to people today.
I wish to share from a little book which has become very dear and helpful to me over the years. It is Thomas Merton – A Book of Hours. In the readings for Saturday the first reading is “Dawn.” The poetic and deep spiritual wisdom of Merton shines forth in his work.
There is in all visible things an invisible fecundity, a dimmed light, a meek namelessness, a hidden wholeness. This mysterious Unity and Integrity is Wisdom, the Mother of all, Natura naturans.
There is in all things an inexhaustible sweetness and purity, a silence that is a fount of action and joy. It rises up in a wordless gentleness and flows out to me from the unseen roots of all created being, welcoming me tenderly, saluting me with indescribable humility.
This is at once my own being, my own nature, and the Gift of my Creator’s Thought and Art within me, speaking as Hagia Sophia, speaking as my sister, Wisdom.
I am awakened; I am born again at the voice of my Sister, sent to me from the depths of divine fecundity.
We live in a very real world and we must contend with very real things.
However life is not intended to be lived in constant anxiousness and despair, as if we were without resources, indeed divine resources, to help us negotiate what is before us. Holy texts and sacred writing deliver Wisdom which opens our eyes and our soul to see the richness of the world.
We are lifted up, not so we can escape the world, but so we can see what is there in all of its richness and can then go to work in the world. It is through Wisdom that we do our best work and our best living.
Listen! Our Sister calls. Her name is Hagia Sophia, Holy Wisdom.