21 June 2018

Sowing in tears

Skripachka suspects her world is about to change. (Photo from last October, as we prepared to leave Elektrostal.)

This past week, evidence that we're essentially being governed at the national level by a crime family has continued to accumulate. For the first time, I began to feel like I'm living in an occupied country. What do you do when your country is occupied? You resist. Nonviolently, ethically, prayerfully, but also persistently. The trouble is, persistence is exhausting.

Faith Marsalli, pastor of Klamath Falls Friends Church, invited us to speak there last Sunday. She wondered whether we might consider the question, "What gives you hope these days?" Given that almost everyone I know reports being overwhelmed at least some of the time, I was eager to take up the invitation.

For some reason, when I read her suggestions, my mind went back immediately to 1976, to an auditorium at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. The occasion was a Triennial session of Friends World Committee for Consultation, and I was there to cover the event for the Quaker bimonthly The Canadian Friend. The evening's speaker was T. Canby Jones, who began his talk on "Signs of Hope" with these words:
Those who sow with tears
    will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
    carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
    carrying sheaves with them.
(Psalm 126:5-6, context.)
Canby, who was born in Japan to Quaker missionaries, went on to recount his then-recent visit to Hiroshima, site of humanity's first experience of nuclear warfare. The spiritual renaissance of Japanese and Korean Quakers were among the signs of hope he reported, along with the faithfulness of Friends pastors in Cuba and the growth of the Quaker movement in Bolivia. With obvious delight (those who remember Canby will know what I mean!) he also reported on developments in cross-Quaker influences, the sort of thing that we have since come to know as the "convergent" movement.

Last Sunday at Klamath Falls, I read this psalm, and then began considering those who are now sowing in tears. Despite my life-long status as a registered optimist, I've found, sometimes to my horror, that my tears are never far from the surface. (That's one reason I'm so mystified about my inability thus far to grieve my parents.) Back when I was working for the Anglican Book Society in Ottawa, I was grateful to discover Catherine de Hueck Doherty's book Poustinia. She gave me a label for my affliction: the gift of tears. During my sermon at Klamath Falls, I read briefly from her book:
Clarity of soul is different from clarity of mind. I can see my sins clearly with my mind. I can use the methods recommended by ascetical theology (which is based on reason) to overcome my sins.

But clarity of soul is acquired by the gift of tears. I weep, and the gift of tears wash away my sins and the sins of others. My mind is serene and unaffected, because I know that the grace of tears is not from my mind but proceeds from the heart of God. It comes to my heart, and I weep. My mind now is clear and my heart is clear -- I am clear....

... We should distinguish between depression and a state of sorrow. [I'd add distinguish, but don't rank! -jm] Sorrow is a state of union with God in the pain of [humanity].
When our political life is at such a low point that children are treated as bargaining chips, it is entirely Godly that tears flow. Be comforted that your sorrow translates as solidarity. You and I are doing the work of disciples.

Turning to the theme of hope, I tried to sketch a few thoughts on the Psalm's promise that we'll "reap with songs of joy," but I was not in a mood to indulge in glib certainty. As Canby Jones said the last time I heard him speak, "This irrepressible conflict on every level of human community will continue until God in his judgment brings an end to history through our victory with the conquering Lamb as our leader. The earth will then be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea!" But when?!

In the meantime, we may weep but we still do the work. We sow, knowing that every seed (every work of kindness, of faithfulness, of persistence, of honest testimony) bursts with the potential of life and resurrection. At a Baptist seminary in central Europe, Judy and I met a young Russian pastor whose grandfather had become a Christian while in German captivity after World War I. German Baptists had ministered to this former enemy soldier, who was eventually repatriated and formed a church back in Russia. Exiled to the western border of Siberia by the new Communist government, he formed another church in Chelyabinsk. When he was cruelly killed (sprayed with water in midwinter), his wife became pastor and continued the work. The kind and dedicated man we met would not be serving now if they had not kept sowing.

As we sow, we confront the weeds, the dangerous practices that rise up and spread in times of conflict ... mocking, objectifying, fake outrage, unfair comparisons, bearing false witness.

As we sow, we confess our sorrow to each other; we cry and let others cry. We listen and comfort without rushing to fix things.

As we keep sowing, we divide the labor according to our gifts. For every radical prophet who risks everything to speak the truth, we hope some conservative is doing a good job of guarding the money that will pay the prophet's bail. We make space for the pastor who cherishes our community, and we make space for the outward-facing evangelist, who understands when the moment is ripe to intervene in our culture.

(Have you noticed, by the way, how many times non-Christians, upset by the spectacle of the Bible being cited in the service of oppression, are asking Christians to step up and make ourselves heard? And, thank God, it's actually happening!)

As we keep sowing, we spell each other. Not everyone has to cover every base every day. Not everyone even has to be hopeful every day! In the days following my beloved cousin Axel Heyerdahl's death, I went to Ottawa to be with his family and attend the funeral. One evening I took a break and went to a blues club. One of Canada's most famous blues bands played a set that was a complete dud, but the evening was far from lost: the unknown band that opened for them was so good that I left totally satisfied. I guess the famous guys needed to be spelled.

As we keep sowing, we don't just pray, work, and testify together; we eat and play together. (I'm remembering the first time I ever heard the Quaker economist Kenneth Boulding. He gave a lecture at my school, Carleton University. I didn't know anything then about his spiritual affiliation, but I was so intrigued by his theme, the importance of play.)

Maybe it would be nice if some impressive Johnny Appleseed figure would rise up and take the load off us. But the truth is that we are the ones we've been waiting for. "There's just you and me, kid." As William Barber said to Dahlia Lithwick in a recent Amicus podcast interview, "All of our heroes and sheroes are not getting up out of the grave. But they are cheering us from the balconies of heaven, I believe."

(Sowing in tears, part two: Red Hens, resistance, and love.)

Resources for sustaining hope include Lorraine Watson's wonderful series of sermons on confronting the darkness. Download them from the messages page of North Seattle Friends Church's Web site. The series starts October 22.

Mark Galli, editor of Christianity Today: Loving our neighbors knows no borders -- even political ones.

Galli's editorial implies that yesterday's executive order ends the controversy. Actually, there is still much work to do.

Carrie Cordero on legal considerations for separating families at the border.

Kevin Jennings: in the good old days (before a century ago), all immigration was legal....

In Russia for the World Cup? In her Book clinic, Phoebe Taplin suggests some modern fiction from the host nation. The books on her list that I've read all deserve their inclusion here.

Meanwhile, Russia's Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights suggests that the campaign against Jehovah's Witnesses has gone too far. (Declaration in support of JWs. Russian-language original.)

And Ilya Matveev says that the proposal to raise Russia's pension age (during the World Cup excitement) marks the last stage in Russia's transition from a socially oriented budget to a military/bureaucratic budget.

"Oh my dear sister, am I not a brother to you?"


Pat said...

Thanks for this post and also the moving music. There is a sermon by A.W. Tozer on I Peter 1:3 (see below) that I found to be insightful and inspiring. Tozer makes the distinction between human hope that is often disappointed and worn away, and the living (lively) hope that is begotten through supernatural grace. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-E6AnIrxah0 How often have I recalled and enacted Fox's guidance to look not down at sin but at that which overcomes it. In doing so, we strengthen ourselves to persist in addressing/enduring the ills and evils of the world. It is a world that we are not of yet are, nevertheless, in. We are given a way of handling it, and a joyful one.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Pet. 1:3).

Johan Maurer said...

Hello, Pat. Thank you for your comments and for the YouTube link.

I love A.W. Tozer, and enjoyed listening to this sermon, and then I had the fun of finding fragments of the text online. Years ago I realized that, for me, a faith without miracles wasn't a living faith.

My Canadian uncle Axel Heyerdahl, whom I mentioned in this blog post, was a translator of A.W. Tozer into Norwegian! Another fun fact: at least one of Tozer's sons became a Quaker.

Pat said...

Thanks for the background information, Johan, and also mentioning your family connection to this fine minister! I knew nothing of him until yesterday but now intend to listen to many more of his sermons, so nourishing with their solid understanding, humanity, and conviction. Glad to have found him and to find that you're also a fan!

Unknown said...

Excellent blog. I have always been inspired by your and Judy’s persistence in social concerns.

On a completely different note, is there any way you can adopt your kitty and bring him/her to the states? Long trip I know.

Johan Maurer said...

Concerning our kitty ... and tears ... both she and her twin sister PJ were elderly and, in the months after we said goodbye, they both died. Both apparently died from old age. They had been adopted by a dear former student who knew them well, and we had some good visits by Skype in their remaining months. They seemed completely content in his care.

kfsaylor said...

*This past week, evidence that we're essentially being governed at the national level by a crime family has continued to accumulate. For the first time, I began to feel like I'm living in an occupied country. What do you do when your country is occupied? You resist. Nonviolently, ethically, prayerfully, but also persistently. The trouble is, persistence is exhausting.*

I sometimes spend time interacting with various political groups and find it compelling that their are many who share your sense of being occupied and governed by people who criminal or offensive. However, without reflecting personalities, they, depending on the group, sometimes do not share your sense of who it is that are the occupiers and criminals. I am among these groups to share an alternative way of interacting with and being in relationship with people. This message is one of coming out of the very process of identification with and participation in outward political and religious agendas, platforms, theologies, ideologies, and the institutions and leaders who promote and profess them; and coming into the sufficiency of direct and moment by moment participation in and identification with immanent Presence itself in itself, anchoring consciousness and informing the conscience.

It is discovered to us through the inward witness of immanent Presence itself in itself, governing and ruling in the consicence, that it is the process of participation in and identification with outward intellectual constructs and contrivances that is the source of contention and strife, and that contention is the mark of a consciousness and conscience that is outside of the rule and governance of inshining Presence itself and that this identification with and governance by outward forms, leaders, and institutions, does not resolve conflict, it nurtures it. The resolution of conflict is found only in persistent being in the life itself in itself. In such eternal or persistent Being (that is sufficient in itself to role and guide human relationships) inexhaustible life is gifted.

It is a blessing to be present in that moment when Presence itself appears and takes up the role and governance in the conscience of men and women and to witness their coming out of the process of identification with and participation in out political and religious contrivances and institutions and the leaders who seek to enchant their consciences through the process of outward encantations.