By Conference Minister Diane Weible
Gilroy. El Paso. Dayton. It’s just too much. People spending their weekend at festivals or shopping gunned down with no apparent explanation.
It’s senseless and, unfortunately, something that almost feels expected in this day and time. Instead of, “How can we stop this?” we are asking one another, “Where will it happen next?”
I’m at a Companions on the Inner Way retreat this week as part of my yearly study leave and this morning, our keynote speaker, Dr. Wendy Farley, Author and Professor at San Francisco Theological Seminary, explored with us the life and writings of Julian of Norwich. We know her best for her famous words, “All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of thing will be well.” Those words just don’t seem comforting in the face of our reality today.
And yet, Julian lived in the 14th century in a society suffering from the Black Death in which 60% of the those living in Norwich died. She experienced the Peasant Rebellion and the beginning of the Hundred Years War. Her community was faced with the worst floods and famines in centuries and the church was in crisis. There were two Popes and that alone would up-end the Catholic Church but due to the Black Death there were also very few clerics available to offer pastoral care and last rites to the dying. It was widely believed that God was enraged with humanity and this was God’s punishment.
Wow. It’s easy for us to be tempted to go there too sometimes, I’m afraid.
Without going into too much detail about what I learned, Julian prayed for a near-death experience in which she could know what death was like. Sometime later she was near death and a priest came to offer her last rites. He put a cross at the end of her bed. Julian later tells the story that the cross became alive and she had a conversation with Jesus in which he showed her some things.
I won’t go into all I learned about those showings in this column but the one that resonated so deeply in light of what is happening in our world and society today was the understanding that God loves all humanity and always will. Further, to speak of one human, means you are speaking of all humanity. One person’s fate is not separate from another and although there is a lot of diversity, there is no separation. She says that our souls are knitted to God and calls this knitting of our souls to God and, therefore, to one another as “oneing.”
Christ’s death on the cross tied humanity to Christ in such a way that what happens to God happens to all of humanity and what happens to one person happens to God. And therefore, by simple math (this is where I am grateful for my high school math teacher who helped me to understand such equations), what happens to any part of humanity happens to all of humanity.
Charleston, Pulse Nightclub, Columbine, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Sandy Hook, Gilroy, El Paso, Dayton….We should be in shock and we should be enraged and we should be motivated to do or say something. Because what happened to the humans in those spaces affects us all. When people are victims of gun violence, abuse, bullying, attacks of any kind, it affects us all. We are knitted together.
I had a dream two nights ago. I was in Nazi Germany in the 1930s and I was being chased by Hitler’s men. They caught me and I kept pleading for them to let me go. “I am German,” I said. They laughed. I woke up as I was being led away to my death. Even as I understood what made me say it, I was mortified that the me in my dream immediately called out my privilege as a way to say, “not me; you’ve got the wrong person,” as if any other person would be ok for them to go after.
I later texted a friend, “Privilege is a made-up construct for sure, defined by those with the power. Remove the power and humanity has a chance.”
Power and privilege allow a perpetuation of gun laws that permit individuals to obtain assault rifles and go into crowds of people and kill them; privilege is what allows the continuation of violence against black and brown people in our communities; privilege is what prevents us from fully understanding that any act that harms another person is an act that harms God. An act that harms all of us.
I am tied to God. God is tied to me. God is tied to all humanity. Therefore, I am tied to all humanity. When one suffers, we all suffer. Julian’s conversation with God is a lesson for all of us about what it means to live in this world and to work for wholeness, healing, compassion and an end to suffering.
Julian was in touch with reality. She didn’t see a world of roses and that all will be well just because. She saw a God who loves us so much that we are knitted together with God and with one another and that the vision of a future where we begin to treat one another as we want to be treated is possible.
May it be so.