Archive for September, 2011

Gathering of the Waters

Monday, September 12th, 2011

A Meditation for Sunday, September 11, 2011
Scripture: Revelation 21: 5-7; 22: 1-2

Today we celebrate the gift of water as sustaining element, wellspring of abundance, creator of community, and source of healing. We celebrate with full awareness that water, such a gift to a thirsty person, essential to life and so healing to the spirit, has also been recently a source of dangerous flooding in the Northeast, and the cause of hurricane-force winds that have injured people and harmed property.

We also celebrate in the shadow of September 11, 2001—ten years since the towers exploded, part of the Pentagon was knocked in, and Flight 93 came down in a Pennsylvania field. The long shadow of 9/11 encompasses very nearly ten years of war in Afghanistan, and much fear, grief and anger around the world.

Life is full of joy and sorrow mixed. Humanity is capable of great evil and also great good. In the 9/11 attacks, we saw some of the worst of humankind. And yet we also saw some of the best of humankind, people risking and even giving their lives to save others. There were incredible rescues. Listen to this story from the book Ashes Transformed: Healing from Trauma:

An Islamic Arab from Palestine was running for his life in the surging crowd when he stumbled and fell. Paralyzed with fear and unable to get up, he was trampled within seconds by hundreds of feet rushing past him. Then the man felt an arm on his shoulder and a voice speaking to him. “Get up, brother! We have to get out of here.” Unable to stand because of his injuries, he felt himself being picked up. Again he heard the voice: “Brother, we have to get out of here.”
Half dragged, half carried down many stories, the man finally emerged from the building leaning heavily on his rescuer. As the injured Palestinian turned to thank the person who had carried him to safety, his eyes widened, for the person who had called him “brother,” the man who had saved his life, was a Hasidic Jew. He had risked his life for an enemy. Who would do such a foolish thing? (Tilda Norberg, Ashes Transformed: Healing from Trauma, Upper Room Books, 2002, pp. 54-55, quoted by Rev. John Sumhalt in his sermon, “We Do Not Live To Ourselves,” September 11, 2011.)

We are so able to bend the world to our will, we humans, by our good and evil deeds. We make war, harness the power of electrons, atoms and wind, build rockets and cities and tear down rainforests. We forget that in the end, we are just a part of the natural world. The lesson we learned in September 11 2001 is one we should already have known: We are vulnerable. People of the two-thirds world have always been aware of their vulnerability, but we in the developed West have to be reminded by events like Pearl Harbor and September 11. We are not invincible “masters of the universe.”

It should be obvious that technologically-adept humankind is a part of nature, and vulnerable to its forces, but we seem to have forgotten. To live in nature as human beings is to be surprised by paradox. Water is necessary for life, yet too much water, or water in the wrong place, threatens life. It is impossible to be alive without water, yet polluted water brings disease and even death. Hurricane Irene did much damage, yet it also has benefited crabs and oysters in the Chesapeake Bay. The forceful winds stirred up the waters and eliminated, at least for awhile, the dead zone which contains oxygen levels too low to sustain aquatic life.

The water we pour today at Sojourners is soft and gentle; unassuming: yet remember that the Grand Canyon was created by this mild substance.

There is a Taoist saying:

Nothing in the world
is as soft and yielding as water.
Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible,
nothing can surpass it.

The soft overcomes the hard;
the gentle overcomes the rigid.
Everyone knows this is true,
but few can put it into practice.

Someday, I pray, we will learn that there can be more strength in vulnerability and gentleness than in violence and control.
The earth that we sought to have dominion over, to change to our liking and convenience, is now in grave danger and we are too. Climate change is rapidly altering our island home. Melting glaciers cause a rise in sea levels and some island nations might disappear. Warmer water causes more violent hurricanes with more inland flooding. Elsewhere, streams and rivers dry up. And so on through the water cycle. And that’s not even mentioning problems of pollution!

But there is hope. It’s not too late. Despite recent political denials of climate change, scientists are working hard all over the world on these issues. Many people are acquainted with the issues and are learning to make changes and speak up to politicians.

The Rev. Victoria Stafford, a Unitarian Universalist minister in Minnesota, wrote the following call to hope and resistance:

Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope–
not the prudent gates of Optimism,
which are somewhat narrower;
not the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense;
not the strident gates of Self-Righteousness, which creak on shrill and angry hinges (people cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through);
nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of “Everything is gonna be all right.”

But a different, sometimes lonely place, the place of truth-telling,
about your own soul first of all and its condition,
the place of resistance and defiance,
the piece of ground from which you see the world both as it is and as it could be,
as it will be;
the place from which you glimpse not only struggle,
but joy in the struggle. (quoted by Rev. Beth Johnson in her sermon, “Worshipping the Creator in the Midst of Destruction,” September 11, 2011.)

There is hope. We can change.

Indian novelist and activist Arundhati Roy says: “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day I can hear her breathing.” Amen

(From a speech entitled “Confronting Empire” given at the World Social Forum in Porto Allegre, Brazil, 28 January 2003)