We are charged in our time to become aware of the whole world—to carry in our consciousness events that happen all around the world, in other places in our country, and in other peoples’ biographies. And we can barely respond to all that happens in our own lives. But we can see that the spiritual world is not waiting around for us to become ripe and mature before sending challenges our way, nor does the rest of humanity wait for each of us to catch up. The world is hurtling forward, and the presence of evil makes itself known every day a little more. Can we bear witness?
It is the task of our time to learn to be present and bear witness amidst the strife and struggle, to learn to stand in the face of beings and happenings which would throw us off our center and out of ourselves.
The events in Charleston in the last week and a half have been one such set of events. Evil rose up, working through a young man who thought he was fighting for the good. Most anyone can assess in this case: he was not well, and not able to rightly discern the good. His version came out as a terrible atrocity against humanity, based in racism and fear. We can bear witness to this.
We can also bear witness to the powerful response of the congregation, who met in their sanctuary the following Sunday, the same place where those precious lives were taken. Theirs was a clear presence of witness, unwilling to give in to fear and hatred. We can further bear witness to the stunning response of the families of the victims who did not let this terrible act throw them out of their center. For all their grief and dismay, they were able to also say: here is a human being who has done terrible wrong, but we see that he is still a human being, and we forgive him. They even said it to him–they said: We forgive you.
In them, we can see that it is possible for christian faith to become something very real, a real ground upon which we can stand, an orientation towards the being of Goodness and Truth and Love which, practiced over even years, can become fact, deed, and reality. It can become a way to be present in the face of such evil, even a way THROUGH such evil to the possibility of a world where human beings can live in harmony with one another on this earth.
I never thought I would be inspired by the preaching of a US president, but President Obama, during his beautiful eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney and the others of the Charleston Nine, called this event—yes, even the terrible event of the murders—he called it all GRACE. It is grace if we can decide to receive a gift from God in all this, if we take it as a challenge to wake up, to change our minds and hearts and become more than we are today. A challenge to clarify our orientation and decide who we are and who we want to become.
We do not come to the altar of God only to be blessed, and go about our business as usual. But we come here to be changed, to become more human, more courageous, more ready to stand up for our brothers and sisters, and the future world we want to live in.