What Will It Look Like?
A Meditation on Psalm 27 for World Wide Communion Sunday
I remember a time when I thought the world was perfect — when I was still young enough not to know anyone who had died. We had lost a dog, of course, and a few canaries, but I hadn't liked them anyway. I slept in a room next to a window outside of which there was a lilac bush that perfumed my sleep every spring. In the winter, the same window filled with a little drift of snow that would shift and glitter with each blast of Artie wind. On Saturday mornings I would wake early and prepare a plate of powdered donuts with a glass of milk and settle in with a Nancy Drew mystery. Summer afternoons my brother and I would continue our exploration of the ravine next to our home, our latest hand-drawn maps in hand. From the back corner of the vegetable garden, just beyond the green beans, there was a barely visible path that led to the old broken-down bridge where, after crossing the creek, one would pick up an even less visible path which led, we presumed, all the way to Lake Superior, coming out somewhere near the ore dock. We weren't sure, of course, because it was too long a walk to keep our interest.
I had friends. I was earning Girl Scout badges at the steady rate of one a month. Charlie's grocery kept my chocolate habit supplied. Except for the occasional war with my roommate over issues of personal space and my deep envy of my older sisters' more grown-up looking bedroom, life was pretty good.
Then, one year, my parents decided we would spend Christmas in St. Petersburg, Florida. We drove, of course. It was a time before freeways elevated travelers above and around the living conditions between Lake Superior and the Gulf of Mexico. It took three days, two just to get out of the snow! Somewhere around north Georgia, I began noticing that not only the climate, but life itself was different south of the Mason-Dixon line. For the first time, I saw a glimpse of poverty through the rear window of our station wagon, or at least some of the more obvious symbols of poverty; unpainted, weathem1 shacks with one or two old cars parked around, laundry on the line which meant to me then that a clothes dryer could not be afforded. In the cities and towns I saw people sleeping on the sidewalks and at a filling station my sisters and I took turns in the women's room which was next to the men's room which was next to the restroom marked "Coloreds."
Several years later, when we moved from Wisconsin to St. Paul and I attended an integrated Junior High School, I began reading books like Black Like Me and Native Son and the poetry of Langston Hughes. Then, of course, it was the 60s with its turmoil and anguish, the 70s with its apathy, and the 80s with its narcissism. But if someone should ask me when did I first learn that there was injustice in the world, I would have to say it was the year my family drove south for Christmas.
"I believe that I shall stA: the goodness of God in the land of the living."
But what will it look like?
Isn't it true that the older we get, the more cynical we become? It becomes more and more difficult to remain hopeful about this land of the living as we accumulate experiences that seem to prove that God's goodness is at best subdued, and at worst, simply missing. What goodness is there to be seen in this land of the living? Can it be found, God's goodness, in our cities that are rife with poverty, homelessness, stress, competitiveness, violence against just about anyone, and a kind of narcissism that permeates our culture? Or perhaps we should look for God's goodness out in our countryside where farmers struggle between despair and self-obsession and water and land are polluted by carelessness or short-sighted solutions to problems of energy consumption. Or might we find the goodness of God in the behavior and character of our national conscience which seems to continue to tolerate, if not promote, systems of discrimination against the elderly, women, people of color, homosexual men and women? Shall we find God's goodness in our weapons systems? in our political process, God forbid? in our almost laughable-if-it-weren't-so-frightening tolerance for religious intolerance?
It's not easy to have hope, and yet, hope is the very thing that is a sign of faith, isn't it? It is the challenge of faith to remain hopeful, to resist slipping into despair and apathetic paralysis, It is the challenge of faith to seek and to recognize the goodness of God in the land of the living. It is the challenge of faith to have an adult hope that does not rely on childish experiences of an idyllic life before we knew that there was sorrow and meanness, and bigotry and despair. It is the challenge of faith to reclaim a grown-up hope that there is God's goodness in this land of the living.
My sister, Sue, lives in Georgia now, not far from where I took my first step into the adult world of cynicism. She belongs to a mothers' center where women with young children meet to share child care and supporL As she became acquainted with the other women, she began to hear the stories about the obstetric practices in that area of Georgia, She became increasingly outraged as the reality of an insidious class system became clear to her. She did some research and found that the health care practices for wealthy women were very good, if somewhat traditional, while the health care practices for poor women and women of color were shockingly minimal and mired in a catch 22 conflict between the hospitals, the health insurance companies, and the welfare system. Sue is a community organizer by instinct and intuition and before long, women were picketing; speaking to city, county, and state legislators and officials; writing letters; and casting a bright light on an unjust practice. Sue was interviewed on television once, but mostly, she was at the center of it all, encouraging, listening, strengthening the women. Many people are mad at her. Many more are grateful. It is not insignificant to me that Sue is taking communion today in her church in south Georgia, about the same time I will be taking it here.
In India, Elizabeth Abraham, the woman who cares for our new baby Joseph and who made it possible for us to have our daughter Mattie, the woman who works the Indian judicial system like Jean Pierre Rampal plays the flute, received communion last night, about the same time of day as I will receive communion here this morning.
In Japan, Echo will be receiving communion a bit later today. She will have spent the night before in a shelter for young women and girls who are escaping the prostitution trade.
In South Africa, the men and women who daily pray for Nelson Mandela's release are receiving communion today.
In France, in the Soviet Union, in Korea, in Washington, in Pennsylvania, in Kansas, in Westminster, St. Paul's, and Litchfield, people are giving and receiving communion today.
It isn't much, really. It isn't going to change the world, eliminate injustice, or bring about lasting peace. But neither is it nothing. World Communion Sunday is like a little sigh, a brief release of something clenched, a fraction of a second when Christians sit together around one table. For those of us who sometimes are mired in cynicism and its often accompanying despair, World Communion Sunday is a little glimpse of the goodness of God in this land of the living.
Imagine, if you will, one other person who in his or her own church, his or her own country, is receiving communion today. And whisper a little prayer for that one, won't you? We all could use a little of God's goodness.