In the last couple of weeks of October walking around our neighborhood, Jessica and I noticed how many people had already put up Christmas lights on their front yard trees and on their houses. I don’t think I can remember a year that folks were already decorating for Christmas to this degree when Halloween hadn’t yet happened.
I suspect many of us are eager to get on with it. In this pandemic when so many of our cherished, social routines have been dismantled, we just want 2020 to be over. Maybe the sooner Christmas can come and go, the better. It could be like pressing hard on the gas pedal even when you know there isn’t much gas left in the tank; a give-it-all-you’ve-got just to get to the finish line of 2020. I wonder if hanging up Christmas lights now is also about trying hard to resist staying in the moment of this disordered time.
It’s like frantically paddling in a rapid, thinking that the harder and faster we paddle the sooner we can get through the rough patch intact. Doesn’t matter how you paddle or what skill you bring to bear on the situation, just park your brain and book it.
But sometimes the best thing to do is the counter-intuitive thing – to loosen our grip, relax our compulsion and breathe into the moment, even if that moment is mired in the chaos of rapidly changing times.
When I celebrated my birthday last week I didn’t know how I could enjoy the day and week which was packed full with zoom meetings, appointments and visits. And especially when we weren’t setting aside time to go out to eat at a new restaurant, catch a movie in the theatre or attend a concert at the NAC like we normally would pre-covid.
Even though I didn’t celebrate in the usual way, I was surprised by the joy I felt in simply seeing the faces of people I knew on the computer screen who were sharing an imperfect yet cherished moment together. I was truly grateful.
I agree with Bishop Pryse who told some of us on one of these zoom calls that physical distancing doesn’t mean we have to be socially distant nor ‘soul’ distant. To get there, though, we need to appreciate, in a new, perhaps previously unrecognized way, the gift hidden within the disorder.
The Gospel text for All Saints’ Sunday this year are the Beatitudes from Matthew 5 (1-12). These sayings from Jesus at the beginning of a long sermon he gives don’t get as much air time as the Ten Commandments from the Hebrew bible. It is no wonder the Commandments are more popular because they point to ‘order’, or an ordering of life. Lutherans have traditionally lifted up the value of ‘good order’ to justify the roles of ordained leaders and the general functioning of the church and society.
The Beatitudes, on the other hand, even though these are words from Jesus, almost encourage disorder, with their weeping, longing, poverty and the endurance of persecution.The words that follow each “Blessed are …” statement describe states of being in a disordered life or circumstance. We are not naturally drawn to these situations.
And yet, these Beatitudes may come to us today as a gift in these times of pandemic fatigue and physical restrictions. The Beatitudes suggest that God is also in the disorder. Perhaps if we placed more emphasis on the Beatitudes of Jesus we could begin to believe in the valuable lessons and experiences that come out of times of dismantling and disruption.
Generally speaking, disorder is the second stage of a three-part journey. Life moves dynamically from order, to disorder, to re-order – again and again. The Christian dynamic is true: Life, death, resurrection – again and again. It happens. It is true – in nature, in the changing seasons, in the economy, in all human institutions, relationships and lives. Order, disorder, reorder.
There is hope in the disorder. If you read on in chapter 5 of Matthew’s Gospel, as Jesus continues his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reinterprets the Law. Six times in a row he says: “The Law says … but I say”Jesus takes what he has been given, and makes something new out of it.
In this time of disorder, God is reinterpreting our lives. God is cleansing our intentions, exposing our weaknesses, making us honest and pressing the reset button on our lives. After all, Christianity has used the language of being born again. The first birth is not enough. We not only have to be born, but re-made. “The remaking of the soul … has to be done again and again.”
There’s never a going back to the way things were. Never was. Grief over a loss of a loved one is the hard school of learning that truth. The past is not rejected nor obliterated from the landscape of our lives; we don’t forget our loved ones who have died. It’s more that we grow, like a plant, out of the past into the new thing that emerges in our lives. It is a growth that includes and transcends the past.
In this time of disorder, we can have hope that we are on the way, however slowly this happens, to a new dawn and new beginning. And it will start with love, and loving others in the disordered places of our world.
Richard Rohr, What Do We Do With The Bible? (New Mexico: CAC Publishing, 2018), p.37
Matthew 5:21-48; see Rohr, ibid., p.49.