Monday, January 30, 2017

Spiritual sustenance for terrifying times

[Joshua Banbury and  the church choir sing
"Lord, Make Me an Instrument of Thy Peace"]
A friend asked on Facebook, "How are you going to sustain yourself emotionally and spiritually in the coming months and years?" I never thought of responding, "I'll go to church."

If people who call themselves Christians could bring us Donald Trump and his evil minions, I was inclined to stay home, walk my dog, and read distracting novels.

I admit: I was being grossly unfair. The church I attend is made up largely of the very people most likely to be harmed by Trump's administration: immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ people, women, seniors, people whose children are in the military. I should have thought of it as a primary source of emotional and spiritual sustenance, but I was maybe just a little ticked at our pastors for not speaking out more specifically and forcefully about the dangers so many of us are facing and our pervasive fear in the face of those dangers.

Yet for some reason, though I had planned to stay home yesterday morning, I found myself walking through the church doors anyway. I'm glad I did.

Not because of the sermon. It was a perfectly decent sermon for normal times, but the preacher typically made no direct reference to the seriously abnormal events that are washing over us. Well, he did tell us that followers of Jesus are more likely to suffer than to get rich. He got that right.

No, it was the hymns and Scripture readings that brought emotional and spiritual sustenance--and I'm not saying that because my husband is the music director. He and the pastors together chose the hymns well before Trump's hugely disastrous first week in office, and the Scripture readings were chosen years ago by the Consultation on Common Texts. God works in mysterious ways, as the seriously depressed William Cowper noted in 1774, two years before his country went to war.

But wait--before I'm sucked back into the Slough of Despond, let me share some of yesterday's poetry with you, in case you too are feeling short on sustenance.

Here are three verses from the first hymn, "Rise Up, O Saints of God" (imagine singing this lustily with congregation and organ):

Speak out, O saints of God! Despair engulfs earth's frame;
As heirs of God's baptismal grace, the word of hope proclaim.

Rise up, O saints of God! The kingdom's path embrace;
Redress sin's cruel consequence; give justice larger place.

Give heed, O saints of God! Creation cries in pain;
Stretch forth your hand of healing now; with love the weak sustain.

This is the summation of the first Scripture reading, Micah 6:1-8:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you 
but to do justice, 
and to love kindness, 
and to walk humbly with your God?

Psalm 15 is especially striking when read responsively:

Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle? 
who may abide upon your holy hill?
Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right, 
who speaks the truth from his heart.
There is no guile upon his tongue; he does no evil to his friend; 
he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor.
In his sight the wicked is rejected, 
but he honors those who fear the Lord.
He has sworn to do no wrong 
and does not take back his word.
He does not give his money in hope of gain, 
nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.
Whoever does these things 
shall never be overthrown.

The second Scripture reading, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, warns against boasting because "God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong." 

The Gospel reading, Matthew 5:1-12, is Jesus's list of those who are blessed in God's kingdom: the poor, mourners, the meek, those who hunger for justice, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for speaking truth to power.

Joshua Banbury, pictured above, movingly sang the prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, which includes these words:

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy...

As the service ended, we all stood up and sang "God of Grace and God of Glory" (to the tune usually used for "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah"). Here are two verses. Sing it as you read, and hear the church singing with you:

Lo! the hosts of evil round us
scorn thy Christ, assail his ways!
From the fears that long have bound us
free our hearts to faith and praise:
grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
for the living of these days,
for the living of these days.

Save us from weak resignation
to the evils we deplore;
let the gift of thy salvation
be our glory evermore.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
serving thee whom we adore,
serving thee whom we adore.

Christianity will have a hard time recovering from self-proclaimed Bible-believing Christians who played a major role in bringing us the horrors now unfolding in Washington DC and around the world. Churches that take Scripture seriously, however--if they do not give in to "weak resignation"--may be among our best sources of emotional and spiritual sustenance in the coming months and years.

Rise up, O saints of God! The kingdom's path embrace;
Redress sin's cruel consequence; give justice larger place.