Middle bits of wilderness

I know I am not alone when I say that the Parkland school shooting feels different. It changed something in me.  Perhaps it is because I have finally had enough – though why the first or the second or the umpteenth school shooting was not enough is a question I take to God in prayer.

Perhaps it is because it occurred on the day of the Hallmark celebration of love and I heard one of the survivors say she initially thought the gunshots were Valentine’s Day balloons popping.  The innocence of that broke my already broken heart.

Perhaps it is because our youngest child and only daughter turned 18 on that day, and as I celebrated her burgeoning adulthood and increasing independence, I was wistful for the days that seem both like yesterday and so long ago when she was a perfectly formed and healthy 3 lb., 9 oz bundle of grace, who taught me for the third time that there are no bounds on love.

Perhaps it is because it was Ash Wednesday, the day Christians like myself enter into the season of solemn reflection and repentance by accepting a mark of our humility on our foreheads.  I know I have been stricken by my need to repent of my complicity in supporting a culture in which previously unspeakable violence is now commonplace. I know this more deeply as I listen to the despicable hubris of people who have the power and position to take meaningful action but who lack the moral authority and gumption to do so.

Perhaps it is for all of these reasons and maybe some I have not yet encountered in my consciousness. Whatever the reasons, the Parkland school shooting feels different and I am changed.

In my sermons this  past weekend, I preached about the Gospel (Mark 1:9-15):

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

This is a Gospel that at times has reassured me and at other times terrorized me.  (An aside: I took a class in seminary called “Preaching Texts of Terror” and this is the Gospel passage I chose.)

Whenever I hear the words, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” or the similar words found in other Gospel stories, I imagine God saying those words to me, and my heart sings.  One of my favorite things to do as priest and pastor, as chaplain, as neighbor and friend, is to remind people that God feels that way about them, too.  You can probably imagine my unfettered joy when an eight-year-old boy told me that God said those words to his four-year-old brother when we baptized the little guy in the late fall.

I almost always, to the extent that I probably could say “always” and have it be true enough to be truthful. hear the final sentence as comforting and an assurance of the hope I feel that God’s dream for God’s creation will come to be.

It is the middle verses, those about Jesus being driven out into the wilderness, that can bring comfort – “Of course I wrestle with temptation.  Even Jesus wrestled with temptation!”- or terror – “How can I ever even begin to think I can resist this temptation when even Jesus had to struggle?”  It is a Gospel passage I come back to time and time again when I am in the midst of a struggle and need to hear the beginning and the end so that I can get through the middle bits.

This week it has touched me in a way I am challenged to articulate clearly, though I felt, and continue to feel, compelled to talk about it.  There is something to be learned, something I need to learn, about the juxtaposition of love and the wilderness as I do the prayerful work of repentance and seek to understand the ways I am called to act. I find that my heart is all bound up in an almost consuming need to do something, anything, so that our young people, our children, never have to wrestle with the middle bits of a terrifying wilderness that is strictly of human making.

I have taken this to God in my prayer.  I have asked and continue to ask for the courage and wisdom to live my faith more boldly in the face of the evil that would place anything above the safety and well-being of children. I am learning that I am willing to venture into the wilderness that is corporate greed and a weapons-strengthened self-centered fear of anyone different, or that same fear of loss of power over another.

I enter this wilderness to repent of my complicity in conveying to my daughter, and to daughters and sons everywhere, that anything is more valuable, more important than their safety or their lives. I am willing to go into the wilderness that is eradicating gun violence to use the privilege I have as a white, middle-class, educated, professional woman to speak to another kind of power, the humble power that I see in Jesus’ example of unconditional love.  My heart is all bound up in a call to ensure that the only message our children hear from those who are responsible to nurture and protect them is “You are beloved. Believe in this good news.”

 

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