On January 17, 1991 between 6:30 and 7:00pm I was in a friend’s dorm room writing a paper on their computer. I had the news on in the background and wasn’t paying too much attention, at least not until the clips of bombs being dropped on Bagdad. In those moments I felt as if everything I had ever depended on was gone. For the next several days I had a hard time focusing on school work or anything else and I was more emotionally vulnerable than usual. It was a very unsettling time for me and I didn’t quite understand why.
When I heard the news that the U.S. had bombed Iran a few days ago, I was brought right back to those days of 1991. The difference is that I now understand why news of war is so unsettling to me. I have a history of PTSD. In 1991 I was just beginning to learn how to manage symptoms and understand triggers. Twenty-nine years later I didn’t have to wonder what was happening. Bombing Iran, devastating fires in Australia, destructive earthquakes in Puerto Rico, and a fire here in Minneapolis that displaced more than 200 people mean that the world is chaotic, violent, and not to be trusted. On top of that, I can do very little to change the outcomes of these events. The threat of violence and the sense of powerlessness is triggering for those of us with PTSD, anxiety, depression, and a myriad of other mental health conditions.
How is it with your spirit? If you find yourself struggling to maintain health and balance in your life, know that you are not alone. Many of us are triggered by catastrophic events because the threat of destruction and feeling powerless are all too familiar. However, as adults in the world, we are not entirely powerless. No, we cannot prevent the leaders of this world from engaging in acts of war. Nor can we extinguish the wild fires that are consuming wildlife and threatening humans in Australia. Nor can we undo the ravages of earthquakes in Puerto Rico. Nor can we find stable, safe, affordable housing for all the victims of the Drake Hotel Fire in Minneapolis. We cannot undo what has been done. However, we do have choices to make.
First, we can decide what to do with our time and resources. What relief efforts can we support? What peace rallies or political protests can we participate in? What can we contribute that will bring a bit of hope into the world, even for just one person?
Epiphany is the perfect season to focus on what we do have and what we are able to do as individuals and as communities of faith. We can remind ourselves of Isaiah’s description of the Messiah as one who would “bring forth justice to the nations.” As Christians, we believe this describes Jesus. As the church, we are the body of Christ and must ask ourselves what we are doing in the world to bring justice to our neighbors near and far. We are not powerless. We can do something to bring peace into the world now. We can recognize that when bombs are dropped, they are dropped on human beings whom God loves. We can acknowledge that fires and earthquakes are not God’s judgment on humanity; they are more likely caused by climate change. We can stop blaming the survivors of tragedy and look for ways to empower them. God, though present in all situations, is not on the side of destruction. God is always on the side of life and resurrection. Moreover, God “shows no partiality” nor should we.
When this work of changing attitudes and positions for the purpose of making room for justice gets overwhelming in its own right, we remember it is God who “gives breath to the people.” When we turn to God for strength, for renewal, for guidance, we remember that we are not alone in our efforts. Perhaps more importantly, we are not engaging in the work of hope, healing, and justice for our own glory as much as for God’s glory. Our spirits can find rest and renewal if we remember that we play a small part in the sacred work of building systems of peace, equity, and justice.
If this isn’t enough to help you be able to breathe more deeply amidst the chaos, then remember the waters of your baptism. When John baptized Jesus, God proclaimed Jesus as God’s own beloved with whom God was well pleased. When anyone is baptized, they come up from the waters dripping with this same proclamation. We are all God’s beloved and God is well pleased with us even when we are paralyzed by fear, anxiety, PTSD, or anything else. Claiming our status as God’s Beloved, may help us all to breathe more deeply and make room for hope and healing in our lives and in the world around us.
It is not too late for the body of Christ to join with faithful people around the world to live in the way of peace. Breathe. Pray. Engage in small acts of kindness. It really is that simple. May the joy of Epiphany guide us all to live in new ways, honoring and glorifying the One who claims us as Beloved.
RCL – Year A – First Sunday after Epiphany – January 12, 2020