Last night my church held a Taize service – quiet songs, interspersed with silence and Psalms and Gospel verses. It was hot in the sanctuary and the fans were working hard to cool us. This was not easy. Not just because we are in the middle of a ridiculously hot summer, but because we are hot around the collar as we walk, alone and together, in our world, in these times.
I spoke recently with one of my brothers. He is a powerful force in my life for love and justice seeking; a lawyer with a heart and mind and a conscience that I imagine keeps him awake at night. We talked about the times we are living in. What he said resonated with me and also made me concerned. For him and for me and for us. He said something to the effect of “I am thinking that we can no longer be happy. I am so angry.” This idea, that we can no longer be happy because we are so angry has been weighing on me and is something that, in my tradition, I take up with God and friends and family. I take it up in prayer and in song, in consultation with writers, and when I walk out in the woods.
One of the writers that I am “conversing with” is Barbara Kingsolver. This week as I was praying about anger and happiness and the hard times we are in, I found her book Small Wonder. It was published one year after 9/11. The opening essay, which the book title comes from, reflects on that horrible day and a whole range of terrible and grace-filled experiences. Two sections stand out for me to I share with my brother and with you. One is about walking outdoors. The other is about happiness and “the point.”
Kingsolver says “In my darkest times I have to walk, sometimes alone, in some green place. Other people must share this ritual. For some I suppose it must be the path through a particular set of city streets, a comforting architecture; for me it’s the need to stare at moving water until my mind comes to rest on nothing at all. Then I can go home. I can clear the brush from a neglected part of the garden, working slowly until it comes to me that there is one small place I can make right for my family. I can plant something as an act of faith in time itself…”
And this. “It used to be, on many days, that I could close my eyes and sense myself to be perfectly happy. I have wondered lately if that feeling will even come back. It is a worthy thing to wonder, but maybe being perfectly happy is not really the point. Maybe that is only some modern American dream of the point, while the truer measure of humanity is the distance we must travel in our lives, time and time again, “twixt two extremes of passion – joy and grief” as Shakespeare put it. However much I’ve lost, what remains to me is that I can still speak to name the things I love.”
During our Taize service I closed my eyes and I did not feel happiness but my mind did come to rest, after a long time, on nothing at all. Or everything at all. And today when I was restless again after church, and I was once again unbearably hot, and I took myself walking in the woods by a stream and then I sat in the cold water of the river, I heard myself naming. What we have lost. What we love. Who we have lost. Who we love.
We can plant something. It is an act of faith in time itself and what Kingsolver calls “Small change, small wonders – these are the currency of my endurance and ultimately of my life. It is a workable economy.”
Dear Brother. Dear Friend. Dear God,
All that I have is yours. My sadness and my grief. My hope and my happiness. My ability to walk and my places of walking. My song and my tears. My little bit here and there. My love. I pray today that when it all adds up, as it is adding up even now, that it will be something that will shed a bit of faith and that it will be enough, until, and I know this will happen, something else comes my way and that too, gets added, and sifted, and blessed. These are our times.