Bear Witness to Change

IMG_4960We 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.


  She said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? Are you then greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I give shall never thirst; the water that I give will become in each one a well of water springing forth eternal life.”  John 4

On a purely physical level, each one of us shares a common human experience: after a short time, we need to take in the flowing element: water. We have thirst. Thirst is a deep desire of the body to balance out the mineral element which builds up inside. Salt and other minerals help us to take hold of our form, to incarnate and to act and to think. Too much mineral, too little water, leads to dehydration. We need the element of water from the world around us. It leads us again and again back into life. 

This fact of our need for replenishment from without keeps us in a relationship with the world; at least with the natural, created world as we develop ourselves individually. As wonderful as each of us is, and no matter how unique our individual gifts are, it remains a fact that our existence is a kind of desert experience without the company of others with whom we can move through life. To enter a certain quickening flow together. Through community is our life exponentially more lively.

We are also invited to merge our lives  into an even larger stream. We do not have only bodily thirst, and thirst after community experience, but a kind of existential thirst for real spiritual experience and a larger purpose in life. We hear of a living water which can still this thirst. But how shall we come to its source? What shall we use to reach into its depths and bring it out? 

What if my thoughts and feelings feel dried out and do not lead me to a life which feels truly alive? Can I turn them into a tool by turning with them, rounding them again by offering them up as a question and a prayer? To turn them into a kind of ladle or scoop? What if the depths that I seek are in fact in the heights, that I can reach into no matter where I am? Prayer is such an implement. With it I can bring my own will into the stream of a higher will to which my will belongs and from which new life can flow into me.