For The Someday Book

Posts Tagged ‘revelation

This is my favorite passage in all of American literature—and probably world literature, excluding scripture:

Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing, until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams locked to death by Time. That is the life of men.
Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. They then act and do things accordingly.

These are the opening lines of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.

If you’ve never read this book, please do. It’s my favorite novel of all time, and one of the few books I read over and over again. I was reminded of it again last night after enjoying the American Masters episode about Zora Neale Hurston on PBS.

What I love about this passage is the proclamation that “the dream is the truth.” What a holy pronouncement! My images of the dream come mostly from scripture:

  • “they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks” (Isaiah 2)
  • “you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in” (Isaiah 58)
  • “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich empty away” (Luke 1, Mary’s Magnificat)
  • “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a flowing stream” (Amos 5)
  • “Death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will be no more” (Revelation 21)

But I also think of images from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning if its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [and women] are created equal.”

Whatever image we set out as the dream, that is the truth, says Zora. Now act and do accordingly. It reminds me of the old saying among radicals, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” If the dream is justice, live justice. If the dream is equality, live with all as equal brothers and sisters. If the dream is peace, live peace. If the dream is an end to poverty, live your life against poverty. Because that is the Truth.

In Christianity, we use the term “Word,” capital “W”, to refer to God, with the understanding that God’s word, God’s speech, is so powerful that it is Word, an entity unto itself with a force that can call worlds into being and bring flesh to life and animate the world. I think we could contemplate Word as synonymous with Truth, as Zora Neale Hurston uses it. The dream is the Truth–the promise of God is the Word of God. It is a force that can and will make things happen. The dream is not some fuzzy notion, hardly visible at the edge of sleep. Nor is it a hastily-scribbled IOU for the future. The dream is the truth—hard and fast, secure and tangible, as real as mud.

We who know this act and do things accordingly.

I am supposed to be spending this precious time away from the house crafting my sermon for tomorrow, but instead I am posting to this blog. I haven’t had time or mental space to write in several weeks, and I miss it. There are several entries waiting to be written, but again they will have to wait.

Before Christmas, I set my preaching plan for Epiphany, with a theme on the Rivers of God, starting with the Jordan at baptism, the River of Life in Ezekiel and Revelation, crossing the river to eternity, and the living water of Jesus. In conjunction with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I planned this Sunday to use the text from Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a flowing stream,” and Revelation 22, where the River of Life flows “for the healing of the nations.” My title is “Peace Like a River,” and I had planned to talk about peace and justice, shalom, using images and words from Dr. King, especially his famous anti-war speech, “Beyond Vietnam.”

Today I feel overwhelmed by the prospect. Not because I have too little to say, but too much. And far too little time.

This last week, of course, the news has been dominated by the crisis of the Haitian earthquake, and I have spent hours online reading stories and looking at pictures and videos of the carnage. I have many Haitian friends from my time in Massachusetts, and I wonder how they and their families are doing, who has been lost and who has been injured and who has survived. I have many friends and colleagues from other churches with deep ties and relationships in Haiti, and I feel connected (especially via Facebook) to their anguish and concern and helplessness, to the names and individual stories that are two degrees from me. Missionaries, denominational representatives, clergy colleagues (Haitian and American) whose stories have torn my heart wide open. I want to tell their stories, to deepen compassion in my Sunday sermon. The racism and prejudice among some conservatives (Robertson, Limbaugh and even members of my own family) is appalling, and demands attention in my preaching. I even have an illustration: an image I saw on CNN, of a hotel in Port-Au-Prince that still had running water. They had hooked a hose to the tap on the roof, and let the hose run down all the way to the ground with the water flowing. People were coming from everywhere to fill buckets and bottles and jugs with this water. Justice rolling down like water…

That’s not all that is rolling around in my head. Also this week, a dear, dear friend was a victim of violent crime, and a family member was deployed to Afghanistan suddenly and unexpectedly. I have done three funerals in 10 days. Two were for loved ones who died unexpectedly and threw their families into tumult, folks who were older but not elderly or dying. The third was for a homeless man who frequented our church’s soup kitchen, who died on the streets on Christmas Day.

But all has not been joyless. Last Saturday, the church held a planning retreat that excited and empowered a new group of church leaders who have already stepped up and begun amazing new initiatives that give me great hope about our congregation’s future. Our youth group is planning to join another church for a mission trip this summer, and already eight people have signed up to participate. Last Sunday, I attended the ordination of a faithful, talented young clergywoman I am honored to call my friend. My friend and her service were inspiring, and the preacher delivered a sermon that was intricate and erudite and drew me in for a rich and insightful and inspiring and intellectual journey.

I want to preach like that tomorrow–intricate and erudite and rich and insightful and inspiring and intellectual. The challenges and heartaches of the last week make me want to retreat into the place of sense-seeking and meaning-making as I write. I want to weave the scraps and shreds of stories–MLK, Haiti, funerals, homelessness, youth, new leaders, ordination, crime, war–into a beautiful tapestry of God’s love and shalom persisting through the day and through the night. Somehow, I feel like I owe it to myself and to all those named (and unnamed) to tell their stories in the light and context of God’s love, justice and righteousness.

I want to draw people into the whelming ache of my soul.

I want the words to pour out evocatively enough to become justice rolling down like waters and righteousness like a flowing stream, to let my words become the Word that calls worlds into being, the Word that can break forth new light and hope in the darkest of nights.

I want us to see ourselves jumping off and jumping in to that great River of Life, adding our power to the power of God’s current, flowing on in a great river of healing–for all the nations, for war, for earthquake, for poverty, for racism, for injustice, for violence, for crime, for despair, for prejudice, for ignorance, for greed, for isolation, for homelessness, for grief, for all that is broken and sinful and hurting in this world–let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a flowing stream.

This! This is what I want from my sermon tomorrow! But I am filled with doubt, with fear, with anxiety. It’s too raw for presentation. Will they get it? If they haven’t been on my wild ride of these last few weeks, will this speak to them at all, or is it too personal? I don’t have time to explain or justify in this sermon. I can’t talk about the roots of the Haitian disaster in the legacy of slavery and indebtedness. I can’t pull the threads carefully through the loom to connect the Haitian revolution to the American civil rights movement. I can’t defend MLK as a prophet and preacher to a prejudiced or pretentious parishioner. I can’t explore the etymology of the Hebrew shalom, tzedek and hesed in contrast with the paltry and impoverished American understandings of “peace”, “justice,” and “loving kindness.” I can’t give a shout out to “supporting the troops” in the midst of a sermon proclaiming God’s mandate for peace. I can’t discuss excuses or blame or justifications for the homeless man’s alcoholism or immigration status, any more than I can discuss my friend’s amazing strength in facing her attacker, any more than I can resolve my conflicted desire to love and support my military family and yet stop the tragedy that is war. What can I say that will do justice to the depth of my thoughts and feelings, let alone do justice to the heartache of their lives this past week, let alone the astonishing depravity and disaster of the world, let alone the power of God to overcome and heal it all? And above it all the fear: will they even hear? And what if they do? And then, what if they listen?

I want to be able to polish this up and smooth it over–to take away the rawness and frailty that is so objectionable, or at least to answer objections. I want it to be tight and cohesive and put-together. I want to insert my arguments against potential detractors, to mount my defenses so that I preach armed and ready for attack, or at least from behind the walls of the fort, with cannons aimed. I want to take “me” out of it–to call down some higher authority than my broken-open and healed soul, to rely on some theological white knight to sweep me up and out of the fray.

But that’s not the way that it’s going to happen. It never is. For God’s justice to come rolling down like waters and righteousness like a flowing stream, we have to open our souls to the wildness of the river. We have to rant like John of Patmos, author of Revelation, about fantastical angels and horsemen and rivers at the end of it all. We have to wrench open our agony like Amos, declaring to the world that this should not be. We have to sweat through our shirts and whip the crowd into a frenzy like Martin Luther King did. We have to sing through the night of darkness and death like the people of Port-Au-Prince did, taking to the streets for a joyous march singing songs of praise to God. We have to raise our hands in the air and dance in ecstasy, because the Spirit has captured us body and soul and transported us into another realm.

Because when God’s justice comes it is not soothing like the swish of the Ohio. It is not tame or controlled or calm or tranquil. When God’s justice comes it rolls down like great waterfalls crashing around us, stripping us down, breaking apart all that binds us and setting us free. Free for righteousness, for righteousness, our chance to do right. We are freed by God’s justice so we can lend our effort, our goodness, our righteousness, however frail and broken and halting and puny, to lend our good effort to God’s great river of life, to serve and to heal and to love and to bring peace to all those who weep, to become a part of the mighty stream that God sending throughout the earth. Even when all we have to contribute to the River of Life is our own stream of tears.

When God’s justice comes, we get swept away. Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a flowing stream. And the river will rise, deep and free, and we ourselves, we shall see, on the day when God will wipe away all of the tears from the people’s eyes, and peace will flow like a river and the river will rise. (Tom Conry)

About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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