Though I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Shawn Smucker in person yet, the honest way he shares his humanity and faith, the vulnerable display of his doubts and dreams that inform every economic line of his writing make him one of the handful of men who continue to affirm for me that there are good men in the world. He is one of my favorite living writers and one of my favorite people and even though Shawn’s a decade younger than I am, I still wouldn’t mind a’tall being like Shawn when I grow up. I rarely, if ever miss one of his blog posts. You shouldn’t either.
In his post, “What’s Happening Every Moment”(http://shawnsmucker.com/2015/09/whats-happening-every-moment/), Shawn asked some compelling questions:
“What is being planted in me this moment?…What cosmic messages, what prophetic visions, what desires, what boredom, what dreams? What hope, what bitterness, what patience laid bare in the turned up furrows of my
soul, folded over? What are these moments planting in your soul?”
What are these moments planting in my soul? What do these moments, each of these mundane and malevolent moments, plant in us? Most of us most often are soul-unaware, let alone actually knowing what’s being
planted there to take root deeply and to yield a harvest according to that seed. The admonition to “Be Present,” to “Be in the Moment,” has been trendy, cool, co-opted, and cliched. If we take it only for its
yoga tee shirt printed, Westernized-Buddhism-lite surface value, maybe we should seriously consider retiring its use retail, wholesale, and altogether. Honestly, what is the challenge for most of Westerners with any modicum of health to “be in the moment”?
(breathy ultra spiritual voice): “Be in the moment. Raise your awareness. Notice where you are, what you’re doing. How does it feel…in this moment?”
Guy in the front yard, mopping his brow: “I’m mowing the damn grass in this moment, that’s what I’m doing…and I feel hot, it’s hot like Judgement Day out here for the love a Christ!”
(breathy ultra spiritual voice): “Breathe in the present. Letting go of yesterday and tomorrow, just staying in this moment. How does that feel, just right now?”
Middle-aged woman pausing her shopping cart: “Feel? I feel tired. This Target’s the size of a stadium and frankly, a little annoyed. Look, maybe I’m just old and still have a “Charlie’s Angels” girls-crush, but if Jaclyn Smith is too old to grace the cover of women’s magazines, then isn’t Caitlyn Jenner too man to be on magazine covers everywhere I turn my head?”
Yeah, let’s let those deeply self-actualizing precious moments go, but what if the moment is deeper than our comfort zones and wider than our attention spans? What if this moment that’s planting something in our souls is terrifyingly vast, vast and horrible and grand? Lately the unbearable moments are nearly back to back, these moments that knock the wind out of us and make us sit down hard, stunned, again, that This could really be the world that we live in.
Yesterday, there was the heart wrenching moment of seeing the pictures of bodies washed ashore on Turkish beaches. Particularly the haunting picture of the Syrian refugee toddler drowned and washed up on one of
Turkey’s main tourist resort beaches. He was three years old. There were others, including his five year old brother found down the beach, but thanks to the miraculous calamity of social media we know this three year old’s name. The toddler drowned, washed up, and faced down on the beach is Aylan Kurdi. And there he lies dead, having known only violence, homelessness, and hunger his entire three years of life. And having been a witness to this, how do we now just go on with our day? How can we “be” in this moment? What is this moment planting?
And today, God knows what compelled me to do it, today I clicked ‘play’ on the fifty-one second video. I’ll never be able to erase the images from the pieces of my heart, nor should I be able to. In not quite a minute, but in fifty-one moments, as camera men jockey for the closest shot, we watch as a Syrian family fleeing for their lives refuses to board the train that will take them to a refugee camp. Resisting the police, the father is pleading hysterically, “No camp! No camp!! NO CAMP!!,” while his wife clutches their infant child to her bosom in terror. Finally, the father shouts instructions to his wife and the three of them: father, blessed mother, and holy infant lie down on the train tracks and huddle together, perfectly willing to die under the crushing steel wheels of an oncoming train rather than
to endure what awaits them at the refugee camp. In the last seconds of the video police in riot gear forcibly remove the family. The father is carried away, spread eagle, mid-air, riot policemen holding each limb, as he continues to plead, “NO CAMP!” I am stunned, breathless, sorrow souring my stomach, wondering how much grief can be lodged in my throat before I finally suffocate and in light of this suffering, even talking about our feelings feels unspeakably selfish, feels like a layer of the inhumanity that allows this horror. I cannot help but think of Sethe, the character in Toni Morrison’s novel, “Beloved”, which is based on the facts of a true story. In the novel and later in the fine filmversion, Sethe attempts, and succeeds in one case, to kill her own children, to slit their throats rather than have them
return to the daily horror of the “Sweet Home” plantation cultivated in Amerikkkan slavery.
And here we are again; here we are still, but now with live video shot within the hour of a parent willing to kill their own family and die themselves rather than be in this world, while at the very same moment too many of us are obsessed with status and stuff and self-protection. There isn’t a toothy prosperity gospel preacher or self-help guru that can convince me that we can Ever be our “best selves” while at This moment our very Worst selves co-create tragedy by looking the other way.
I look around the boarding platform as I wait for the train that will take me home today. There must be a hundred or so people scattered about. I wonder how many of them have seen the picture of three year old Aylan dead on the beach or seen the video of the terrified Syrian family huddled in the train tracks in Hungary. If they’ve seen these
same images, what capacity for denial or compartmentalization do they have that I obviously lack? I’m grief-stricken. I need everything to stop. Empire and capitalism and fear, all one and the same, need everything to keep moving. My empathy continues to convince me that it’s not those who can’t cope with this world that are mentally ill, but those that can that are the dangerously unbalanced. There are small and crucial things that we can do to collectively have an impact: spreading awareness, signing petitions, and pressuring government officials, but still I’m left with feeling that none of this is enough. How can any of it be enough when any label can allow us to strip other people of their humanity and reveal our shocking lack of it?
In my head I hear over and over the second verse of that old hymn sung
in beautiful harmony by Homecoming Friends, Reggie Smith, Joy Gardner,
and the late Stephen Hill:
“Could my tears forever flow,
Could my zeal no languor know,
These for sin could not atone,”
No, the ancient words confirm, no amount of our tears, no matter how choking the lump of grief in our throats, no matter if our passionate activism never knew rest, none of these by themselves could actually reconcile and make right the sin of these atrocities.
“Thou must save and Thou alone;”
All of our very best human efforts, our marching, petition signing, protesting, and heroic activism is necessary and needful, and still, at best, only temporary, if hearts remain unchanged. As one writer said, and it remains always true, “At the heart of the matter, it’s a matter of the heart.” I simply don’t know of any other power to change hearts but the power of the reconciling love of God. In response to the suffering of others, some of us feel powerless to do anything at all and even say we don’t believe in prayer. Of course, to me, this sounds like slamming the door shut on hope and opening wide the levy for a flood of uncontested cruelty. While our answers from God in their many forms are vital, it’s helpful for me to consider that maybe prayer isn’t so much about God answering us as it is about us answering God. “Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul and love your neighbor as yourself; care for the widow, the orphan, the prisoner, the least, the last, and the lost,” the Scriptures say and in what way does God need to answer this? Isn’t it us that need to answer God as a bride might answer the priest’s question as she looks into the eyes of her Beloved Bridegroom?
“Do you take these, these refugees and outcasts, these prisoners, these Black Lives that Matter, these 50,000 infected with HIV every day; do you take these homeless and mentally ill, these addicted and hopeless, do you take these Muslims and Jews, these Palestinians and Christians and Queers to be your lawfully wedded neighbors and love them as I have loved you?”
This is the family that we marry into and prayer, with well-worn heels and calloused hands, is our answer to marrying into that family.
The second verse of “Rock of Ages” ends with the lines,
“In my hand no price I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling.”
What can we manufacture, produce, sell, or send to alleviate such endless suffering? By our own hands, what can we bring? Nothing, nothing short of self-sacrificial love is the redemptive answer of the cross. What can we do? What can we bring? Nothing, nothing that doesn’t cost us something. Perhaps what most of us really mean when we say we just feel like there’s nothing we can do is that we just don’t know what we can do that won’t cost us something; and, in that case, we would be right. There is nothing, nothing at all we can do that won’t cost us something, not even prayer.
I sit on the northbound train and watch the horses and cattle, the mountains, clouds, and Indian reservations roll by outside my window. I see a line of outrageously tall sunflowers, then hundreds, then thousands, and for a moment fields and fields crowded with sunflowers reaching their huge, heavy seeded heads toward the sun that seeded
itself in them not so many moments ago. It’s a bombastic blast of yellow life reflected in my eyes brimmed with tears and my heart heavy with remembering lifeless toddlers washed ashore and the family huddled together on the train tracks.
Perhaps the most sage thing ever uttered by renowned seeker, Ram Dass, was simply, “Remember.” Our capacity to remember is surely one source of our greatest potential and our remarkable capacity to forget the source of our greatest inhumanity. Of course, Christ went a gigantic one better than Ram Dass, or more accurately, three-in-One better, when He said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” The “this” that Jesus is referring to was communion – the Table that welcomes us all and leaves no one unchanged; the Table of communion and of the Last Supper – the
supper that invites us all to live for Love by letting Love live through us as we die to ourselves and somehow, somehow, through reckless, amazing grace we share and practice, proclaim and live life more abundantly.
What are these moments planting in our souls? Perhaps all of these things are planted: messages, visions, dreams, and desires, but perhaps, most importantly what is planted there in our souls is what every seed carries: theboundless, breaking forth, stretching, yearning hunger for the sun. Only in the redemptive breaking out and reaching toward the Son that has seeded us can we possibly redeem every moment, every one of those fifty-one seconds. Only by grace can terror and complacency be transformed into carriers, into vessels, into safe and sure boats for all of us refugees to reach the shores of each other’s hearts.
– PreetamDas Kirtana
3 September 2015