Sunday, October 28, 2018

Loss and Reformation

It has been a week of staggering loss.  There's the loss that comes from a week of package bombs and the pictures of the van of the bomber, which leads many of us to believe that it's our poisonous political age has spawned a violence that won't easily be contained or changed.

Likewise, the shooting in a synagogue yesterday prompts despair and the need for deep societal change to heal the brokenness that has become impossible to ignore.

It's also been a week where we lost some great theological thinkers and leaders.  We lost them to old age, but it's hard nonetheless. I began the week hearing about the loss of Eugene Peterson, most famous for The Message, his translation of the Bible into very modern language.  I wrote about him earlier this week in this blog post.

I ended the week reading this article about the Thomas Keating, the monastic who taught so many the art of centering prayer.  I confess that I haven't done as much with centering prayer as I wish; I've studied the practice, but not practiced the practice--at least not for any amount of time.  But I am grateful for the work which has enriched so many.

Last night I read about the death of Ntozake Shange, most famous for her play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf.  I remember the line of the play which seemed so revolutionary when I heard it at a performance I saw in grad school (early 90's):  “i found god in myself / and i loved her / i loved her fiercely.”  My grad school feminist mind glommed onto the idea of a god as female.  Only later did I think about the other idea in this quote, the idea that we find God already inside us.  It reminds me of much spiritual teaching, that we already have everything we need.  Some traditions take an opposite approach, that we're born broken and only when we heal our brokenness will be be redeemed/find what we're looking for.

Her work transformed me in other ways, too.  That relentless exploration of how difficult life is for modern women seemed radical at the time.  Her work was part of the feminist work of the 60's, 70's, and 80's that told us that regular life was worthy of artistic exploration and expression too, and it was such a strong counterpoint to the message I got in grad school.

And of course, her work looked at the lives of minority women who faced problems unique to them.  I haven't read her work in decades, but I imagine that it still seems sadly relevant.

Many of our social scientists tell us that we won't see societal transformation until we have done the work of recognizing and naming the problems that afflict a society.  It is often through the work of writers like Shange that we are able to empathize, even if the problems don't afflict us.  It is often through the visionary work of a variety of writers, spiritual and otherwise, that we can start to imagine what a better world could be.

Today is Reformation Sunday, a day when much of the Christian world will celebrate the work of Martin Luther, who 500 years ago made his own radical call for transformation.  He didn't mean to reform the whole world--he just saw the ways that the Catholic church could be more effective.  But along the way, he inadvertently created a new denomination, which would lead to lots of other denominations.  Like Eugene Peterson, he translated the Bible into the language of the people.  Like Thomas Keating, he gave us a way to pray without the intervention of others.  Like Ntozake Shange, he gave us a new way to think about God.

It's been a week of tremendous loss.  But in the heart of these losses, it is good to remember the breath of Reformation that blows through all of history and how often that breath is rooted in loss.  Let us use the despair of our losses to energize our art.  Let us begin/continue the work of the transformation of a very broken world.

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