In the face of the tragic realities that so often afflict the world, we need a new strategy.
Protests and political action have their place. Anger may at times be appropriate. Social analysis and commentary can be a positive influence. Education is certainly important. Working for justice for all people is valuable.
But, as good and as effective as all these things may be, the world community is plunged again and again into the inexplicable abyss of violence, anger, hatred, xenophobia, prejudice, and injustice. We traverse endless tortured terrain of terror and turmoil. The strategies we try seem to leave us perpetually vulnerable to the disaster of human dysfunction.
Jesus never joined any political movement. Except on one occasion, he never took action against the violent hierarchies and powers of his day (Matthew 21:12,13). Jesus did not condemn or attack the dominant political authorities of his society. He never called for political reform in the face of the unjust powers that abused the poor and marginalized.
Jesus had a different plan. In Luke’s Gospel as his inevitable death by crucifixion loomed on the horizon, Jesus approached Jerusalem. He looked down upon the city that he knew was bent on his destruction. For Jesus, Jerusalem at this moment represented betrayal, injustice, pain and suffering. It was the embodiment of the broken reality of the human condition.
In Jerusalem, love was going to be viciously attacked. Beauty, truth and gentleness were about to be crushed by powerful antagonistic forces.
How do we respond when love is attacked? What is called for in the face of the horror of violence and injustice?
Faced with this painful vision of the holy city of Jerusalem whose leaders had strayed so far from the vision of God’s true holiness, Luke says of Jesus that,
As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it. (Luke 19:41)
Anticipating the coming of the suffering servant, the prophet Isaiah said,
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows:
yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. (Isaiah 53:4)
The word “grief” came into English from the Old French verb “grever” which meant “to burden.” Grief is a burden many of us are reluctant to bear. We would rather get busy and seek to implement a quick-fix plan. We want to strategize, organize, and scheme to find ways to make the world a better place.
But grief cannot be fixed. It is not a problem to be solved, an injustice to be legislated out of existence. Grief is an unrelenting and unavoidable reality. It must be allowed to do its work in our lives. We need to stop and let the grievous state of the world and of the human community truly penetrate our heart.
The world needs people today who are willing to bear the grief of reality and carry the sorrow of being human. In the face of the horrifying brokenness and tragedy that afflicts so much of the world, we need to restrain ourselves from the immediate determination to seep a quick fix. We need to let the brokenness do its work on us first. We need to learn to grieve well. Truly prophetic action begins with weeping.
It is not that we will never get to action. Action will come. It is all about our starting point. Truly life-giving action can only emerge out of the willingness to bear fully the sorrow of human circumstances. Any solution that arises merely from the mind’s determination to find an answer without having truly opened to the deep mystery of suffering, has the power only to create a patina of civilization that will never survive the darkness of the human condition.
We need to sit with the sorrow until the sorrow has broken our hearts wide open to the tenderness and wisdom that reside at the core of our being. Only then, cautiously, tenderly, with deep humility. will we be able to move forward with actions that may bring light and hope in these dark times.
as so often, the poets say it best and most beautifully. In her poem “Kindness”, Naomi Shihab Nye draws the connection between grief and compassion. She wrote these words immediately after she and her husband, who were traveling on a bus in South America on their honeymoon were robbed, and someone spoke to them words of kindness:
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.