Grace Cathedral

Grace Cathedral

Article | November 9, 2016

Truly Seeing — A reflection on healing and unity after the election

Truly Seeing

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light” (Mt. 6).

Let us pray: O Lord, calm the waves of our hearts; calm these tempests! Calm our souls so that the divine can act in them. Calm our souls so that God may rest in us and his goodness cover us. We have often found that the world cannot give us peace. Let us know the truth of your promise: that the whole world cannot take away your peace. Amen.[1]

Where is your heart today? Perhaps you were so excited yesterday about having our first female president that you can hardly get over the shock of this disappointment. Maybe you feel vindicated, that your views have finally been acknowledged and heard. You could be glad for the result but concerned about the pain this is causing other people. You might be feeling apocalyptic. That’s pretty much the only way to describe The New York Times’ editorial on our situation.

Perhaps you feel afraid that you or someone you love will be deported, that your marriage will be declared illegal, or your son sent off to war. Maybe you worry about the health of the nation, our overseas commitments and the reputation of the United States. Maybe you worry about a decline in civility, kindness and respect for human dignity. As a parent I keep wondering what all this will mean for children as they grow up and try to decide what kind of people they will be.

You might have been considering a newly-legal recreational marijuana habit and decided instead to come to church. In any event it is a blessing for us to be together tonight. We all took some effort to draw ourselves into the presence of the Holy, the one who understands us and loves us more deeply than we can imagine.

My friend Lee couldn’t sleep last night so she compulsively cleaned house. My friend Paul couldn’t sleep either so all night he kept repeating the Trisagion (“Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One – have mercy upon us”), until he got up at 4:00 a.m.[2]

For two years I studied the two million word Journal of Henry David Thoreau. Mostly it describes what he sees on his afternoon walk. Giant beach trees, the blue color of drifting snow, the different varieties of cranberries on the surface of a local swamp, a blue heron patiently waiting on the shore of the Sudbury River.

Still, these pages are also full of bitter political disappointments. The Fugitive Slave Act was passed by congress on September 18, 1850 (as part of the Compromise of 1850). It required free states to return escaped slaves to their southern masters. Federal troops had to be called in because the people of Boston refused to allow Anthony Burns to a Virginia plantation. Imagine someone from South Carolina kidnapping a California citizen on Market Street. This horrible incident led Thoreau to write his essay “Slavery in Massachusetts.”

In the 1857 Dred Scott case the Supreme Court ruled that people of African descent whether they came as slaves or free people, could not be US citizens and that the Federal government had no power to regulate slavery in the territories acquired after the creation of the United States.

Thoreau writes at length about how unsettling these events are to a person of conscience, how he cannot leave behind the politics he abhors. In his essay “Walking” he writes, “In my afternoon walk… it happens that I cannot easily shake off the village. The thought of some work will run in my head, and I am not where my body is; I am out of my senses. In my walks I would [be pleased to] return to my senses.”[3]

How can we return to our senses too?

Many of us will simply have to go through a period of grief, but eventually we need to turn over the big questions to God. We need to step out of our despair and into new life. The word of God helps us to do this.

2300 years ago the spirit inspired the author of Ecclesiastes to write, “For everything there is a season, and a time for everything under heaven…. [God] has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Eccl. 3).

We will never see the world from God’s vantage point. In the twenty-first century economists even came up with a name for this phenomenon. WYSIATI is an acronym that stands for “What You See Is All There Is.” It means that we tend to put more weight on what we are experiencing now than we should.

Coming to our senses means returning to God. It means seeing the big picture again and opening ourselves to possibility of great mystery. Matthew writes about Jesus’ teaching on this point. Jesus asks us not to store up our treasures in material, earthly things but to put our trust in what is spiritual. Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt. 6). We have the chance to choose where we will put our heart.

Jesus goes on saying, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness” (Mt. 6)!

The point is not easy to understand. Since the year 1500 modern people have subscribed to the intramission theory of seeing. This is the metaphor of the eye as a window passively letting in light. In Jesus’ time people had a different theory of vision. We call it the extramission theory of vision. It holds that a ray goes out of the eye and makes physical contact with the world. Jesus is teaching that who you are will determine what you see. And perhaps that’s the profoundest truth of all.

This is the promise of this historical moment for us. Everyone in this country is waking up to a new way of seeing this nation and our self. This is being forced upon us by the events. Whether you admire or hate the candidates our nation has been indulging itself in gossip. We have given ourselves over to criticism, unkindness and now it is time to try understanding each other again.
St. Paul writes that the sum of the Gospel is reconciliation. The definition of reconciliation in the Oxford English Dictionary runs three pages. It means, “to bring a person again into friendly relations to or with oneself after an estrangement; to restore to purity, absolve, or cleanse.” This is the hard work we have before us. Other generations have succeeded at this difficult task. England’s Coventry Cathedral was mostly destroyed by German bombs in World War II. In order to enter the new parts of the Cathedral you have to pass through the ruins. Today it exists not as a monument to hate or revenge or sorrow. Instead it stands to reunite the separated and estranged.[4]

One of my favorite plaques at Harvard’s Memorial Church was installed by the Board of Preachers. It says, “Harvard University Has not forgotten her sons who under opposite standards gave their lives for their country, 1914-1918.” At this moment we need to stand up for those who are mistreated, for the elderly, for the marginalized, immigrants, the poor and minorities. We also need to seek opportunities for reconciliation.

Where is your heart today? What will you see when you look with the compassion of Jesus? What is your work on behalf of mercy and reconciliation?

I want to conclude with a prayer that my friend’s son published on his Facebook page this morning. It comes from our prayer book. This college freshman gives me great hope.
Let us pray:

“Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our

heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove

ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will.

Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and

pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion;

from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend

our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes

brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue

with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust

the authority of government, that there may be justice and

peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we

may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth.

In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness,

and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail;

all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”


Service of Healing and Unity after the Election

Eccl. 3:1, 9-13 1     Peter 4:7:11    Matthew 6:19-24

Wednesday 9 November 2016 7:00 p.m.

[1] Based on a prayer by Kierkegaard. Søren Kierkegaard, The Prayers of Kierkegaard ed. Perry D. LeFevre (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press) 43.

[2] http://eatingwithjesus.blogspot.com/2016/11/the-day-after-election-day.html

[3] Henry David Thoreau, “Walking” (section 13).

[4] Peter J. Gomes, Sermons: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living (San Francisco: HarperSF, 1998) 172-3.

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