So, here we are, the weekend of Remembrance Day. And of course the readings for this Sunday are all about apocalypse. It seems apropos. Remembrance is a special word here, its not talking about simply remembering. Its about bringing the past into the present, in the hope that by symbolically reenacting the past moment, we might learn and relearn together. Its why the cannons fire and then we have silence. Its why the bugle plays. Its why the old men and women salute, and cry. We bring back into our lives the horror that is war. And we have returned to enact a remembrance each Sunday here at St B’s. The Eucharist we share is a remembrance of the Last Supper; we break bread, we celebrate gratitude for the gifts of community, the gifts of Grace in our lives, we bring back into our lives the Love of God manifest in Jesus the Christ.
But how are these two the remembrance of war and the remembrance of God’s love, related. Well, I think it has to do with you and me. It has to do, not with war and terror, although those certainly are present in this time and place, it has to do with how you and I behave, how we choose to move through our lives. As people of faith, as children of God, we are called to live lives of peace and in doing so, work towards a time of God’s will, peace and shalom. We can be distracted, even give up hope as we watch the news as war and violence destroy lives still. Truth be told, there is a reading of this evening’s Gospel that would suggest that with war, earthquakes and famine figuring so prominently in the news, we might wonder aloud, “is the end nigh?” What can I do? How can I stop the Taliban, Hezbollah, the Israel Defence Force, the US military, to name just a few? How can I work towards reconciliation between settler and indigenous people here in this part of the world. How could I have an impact on the global environmental catastrophe?
Well, obviously, you can vote, you can buy fair trade, you can learn with and from indigenous elders, you can stand in peaceful resistance against corporate interests destroying forests. All of these are good. And, they are at best disingenuous if you are not working for peace in your own life, in your own heart, in your own home, in your own workplace.
So, what I’d like to invite us into this evening is how does the apocalypse described in tonight’s Gospel push on us as individuals? How does it invite us into lives of shalom so that one day, God’s will is ‘on earth, as it is in heaven.’
To begin the Greek word from which we get ‘apocalypse’ meant, “unveiling.” Just what is being unveiled here?
To be blunt, I don’t think it’s an unveiling of zombies, or pandemics, or God’s wrath. I think a mirror is being unveiled, a mirror of our own ‘human against human’ violence. Our Gospel is more about us, than it is about a wrathful God. Where Jesus talks about people following others who say they are speaking in God’s name, he is calling out how we have set up for ourselves the idea that some violence is sanctioned, even holy, and other violence is unsanctioned and profane. We use the sanctioned and holy violence to try to stop the unsanctioned and profane violence. The sanctioned violence is the violence we use against ‘them.’ Or some of us believe it is our bound duty to use violence, direct action euphemistically, against the oppressors, whomever they are. We sanction our own violent acts because.... well the ends justify the means. On an individual level, we think we are “correct”, “within our rights” to speak harshly, to bully, or to push back against people who have offended us, who have done us some injury. Our actions are sanctioned because we are “right”.
And here my friends is one of the big challenges of Jesus’s teaching; violence begats violence. Period. Sanctioned violence begats more unsanctioned violence. Period. Unsanctioned violence begats more sanctioned violence. Period. Human violence, in the cycle of sanctioned and unsanctioned violence is what is being unveiled in this apocalyptic text. The “end” is not about Divine retribution or punishment. That makes no logical sense from a God that forgives God’s enemies even as God hangs on a cross. The end comes about because humans keep violently destroying the forests, the seas and the land. The end comes about because nation states violently crush people with whom they disagree, internally and externally. The end comes about because anyone who disagrees with me, must be a fool or worse, sub human. And the
beginning of the end starts with you and I and the hurt we cause each other. When we say and do things that are reactions to hurts, and so we snap back, we get into fights with each other in our families, at work and in our communities.
I believe that Christianity is against violence in any form. Martin Luther King wrote:
“the ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy....[V]iolence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” (Martin Luther King Jr. (1967). Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?. p. 67)
I don’t know about you, but I struggle mightily with this challenge that only love can drive out hate. When I’m angry, when I’m hurt, I lash out, I’m sarcastic, I talk about the person, I don’t always talk to the person. It feels good to do so, it gives me a sense of power, or even a strange sense of justice; they somehow deserved it. I’m curious, is this sounding familiar to you?
So what are we to do, how might we respond to people and actions that hurt us without hurting them back? How might we bring light into the darkness of human hurt and violence in our everyday lives. How might we take the remembrance of the Eucharist, the love, the community, into our own lives, in our friendships, at home, on the bus, in our work lives?
I offer four practices, each one possible, but difficult. They require attention and time. And as you practice over time, know that you are loved. God’s Grace is present even in the midst of mistakes and learning. In fact it may be most present in such times. The overarching practice is responding, not reacting. My default reaction may well be to hurt you back if you hurt me, especially if I am tired, or hungry, or distressed. My response comes from a deeper place, a place of discernment and reflection. In responding we may find ourselves on a different path than the hamster wheel of pain and violence.
So here are four practices to help you choose response, rather than reaction:
First is centering prayer. This is a bit of a lost art in Western Christianity, we too often pray to God about what we want; “please God let her like me as much as I like her” kind of thing. Or intercessory prayer, “please God help so and so with cancer” kind of thing. Both, especially the second are important. And, a third kind of prayer is centering prayer. You find a comfortable seat, with both feet on the ground, and you find a word or a phrase that you want to focus on. Start with 3 minutes of silence, focused on that word or phrase, and then over time increase to 5 minutes, 7 minutes and so on. In part, what you are doing is calming your mind, and with practice, you’ll find that you’re able to ‘respond’ rather than ‘react’, more often and more effectively.
The second practice is breathing. There are a number of different methodologies here, but one I like is breathing in through the nose for a count of 4, then out through the mouth for 5, then in through the nose for 5, then out for 6, then in for 6 then out for 7, then try in for 6 and out for 8. Lets try it.... What this does is it lets the body and brain know that all is well, and that you can respond to whatever is here and now and not have to react to it.
The third practice is what I call The Four Questions. I am borrowing liberally here from the Jesuit Daily Examine. There are only 4 questions, but done with a journal, in the evening, over time, they give you a different perspective on how you navigate the world. The questions are, first, what went well today? Note for yourself those moments, where there was even just a glimmer of good in the day. Secondly, ask, where did I mess up? Don’t dwell here, you don’t need to recall the screen play, but in a couple of words, where was I not at my best today? The third question needs to always follow the second, how will I make amends? If you can make amends tomorrow for what happened today, great, but sometimes you’re not able to, and so it may help to ‘pay it forward’, to do something or to be something for another person. Make a note of that. The final question, for what or whom am I grateful? There will always be something or someone that you that inspires your thanks. Even in the most difficult days, who or what are you grateful for? And over time, you’ll find that the ‘went well’ list grows, the mess up list, may start to shrink a little as you notice patterns, the amends list helps balance the mess up list and the gratitude list slowly grows as well. And out of this practice you find that violent language and thinking seems less and less useful.
And there is a fourth practice that I could do more often. Silence. The late Ojibway writer Richard Wagamese wrote, “[s]ometimes people just need to talk. They need to be heard. They need the validation of my time, my silence, my unspoken compassion. They don’t need advice, sympathy or counselling. They need to hear the sound of their own voices speaking their own truths, articulating their own feelings, as those may be at a particular moment, they simply need a nod of the head, a pat on the shoulder or a hug. I’m learning that sometimes silence is golden…” Richard Wagamese Embers: One Ojibway's Meditations
Pray, breathe, reflect and be silent. If each of us did more of these four things, what would we unveil? What or who could we become?
As we prepare for the remembrance of the Eucharist, we will break bread, we will celebrate gratitude for the gifts of community, the gifts of Grace in our lives, and we can we bring back into our lives a glimpse of a world of shalom and love.