If I could see your beautiful faces this morning—if you were all seated in your favorite, not-so-comfortable pews in our well-worn and mostly well-loved sanctuary . . . If I could see you sometimes sneaking a peak at your smartphone and sometimes struggling to keep tears from falling out of your eyes . . . If we could spend way too much time passing the peace of Christ with hugs and handshakes all the way around the room . . .
. . . Well, I think I would practically burst with joy.
Beloveds, that day will come. We will be all together again, and when we are, we just might have to devote one entire service to passing the peace and the joy and the love and the laughter, and reveling in the utter delight of looking one another in the eye, of circling-up around the pews just because we can, and, someday, singing loudly enough to raise the roof, and then sharing and receiving together the Bread of Life and the Cup of Blessing and knowing we’ve never in our lives tasted anything so good.
Obviously, we are not all together in the sanctuary this morning. And yet I’m still going to invite you to do something as if we were: just the simple act of raising your hand.
Because the point of such an exercise is never to expose you to others, but rather to encourage you to reveal your feelings to yourself, I’m going to go ahead and ask you to raise your hands, even though I can’t see you.
Raise your hand if you’re feeling really tired of pandemic life and pandemic death, and if you think you might be going numb.
Raise your hand if somedays you feel like you just can’t take it anymore.
Raise your hand if the seemingly never-ending cycle of police killings and beatings of Black people, followed by protests and altercations and more beatings and arrests, followed by little or no legal action against the police, followed by more protests, and on and on and on, has you feeling uncomfortable, on edge, deeply sad, or barely able to contain the rage simmering within you.
Raise your hand if you don’t know what to think anymore.
Raise your hand if the combination of drought and hurricanes and floods and wildfires feels apocalyptic and, therefore, really, really scary.
Raise your hand if the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg felt like the last straw.
Raise your hand if you are, for the first time in your life, truly worried about the survival of our democracy, even if you’re less sure than ever before how democratic it really is.
Raise your hand if you’re concerned that all the ballots won’t be counted, or that the Electoral College will, again, trump actual votes, or that the president, having done all he can to suppress voting and call the entire process into question, will refuse to leave office even if he loses the election.
Raise your hand if life has never felt as unsettled and uncertain to you as it does now.
Raise your hand if inner peace is hard for you to come by these days.
Now, obviously, I cannot see you and your hands. And still I can say without a shadow of a doubt that if you did raise your hand—once or twice or after every single statement—you are not alone. Even as this pandemic keeps us apart, we are all in this together.
Which raises the question of how we’re going to get through all this, especially when we cannotbe together. Which brings us to the beautiful prayer in the Pauline Letter to the Ephesians—a prayer for spiritual rootedness and groundedness. Listen again:
I pray that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through the Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend the incomprehensible breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to the one who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish far more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be the glory.
In the coming weeks we’ll talk about what it means to be rooted and grounded in love, and what it means to be rooted and grounded in all the fullness of God. And while today we’re going to consider what it means to be rooted in power, we also need to address this business of being rooted and grounded—because it’s so important.
Our scriptures are filled with images of groundedness and . . . not so much. Alongside the fruitful tree planted by streams of water that we imagined in our call to worship, there are the wicked, who are said to be like chaff that the wind drives away. Then there’s the wise person who built their house on a rock, and even though the rains fell and the floods came and the winds battered it, the house did not fall. But foolish people, described by Jesus as those who hear what he says but don’t do anything about it, are like a house built on sand. When the rains come, the floods rise, and the wind blows and blows, their houses will come crashing down. When the storms of life are raging, they will fall to pieces.
I don’t have to tell you that the storms of life are raging. I don’t have to tell you that in these tumultuous times it feels like almost every day brings another disaster, more chaos, less certainty, a new outrage.
How can we make it through, still standing? How can we not only survive, but also grow and thrive? How do we discern when it’s time for the elaborate and racist systems we have built to come tumbling down, or, when we’re sure our lives and our society are built of good and justice-yielding stuff, how can we protect them from the storms that are sure to come?
Well, we can choose whatever metaphor fits best—tree or house or something else altogether. But the reality is clear: If we’re not rooted, we need to put down roots in a foundation that is good and true and real, nourishing and stabilizing. If we’re not grounded, we need to get grounded.
We must do this consciously, with intention—one breath, one prayer, one meditation, one connection with someone else, one yoga session, one walk, one jaw-dropping experience of wonder, one spiritual practice at a time. If you already have a spiritual practice or two or four, times like this is what they are for; this is when the practice bears fruit. If you don’t have any kind of spiritual practice, a consistent method of centering yourself in God’s presence or doing something that feeds your spirit, now is a great time to start. It can be as traditional as a regular time of spiritual reading and prayer, or as personal and creative as making music, asking for help, drinking in natural beauty, taking or posting photos, letting go, walking in nature, or having meaningful conversation with a friend.
Spiritual writer Diana Butler Bass is encouraging us to think of this election season as a kind of Lent, a time of focused devotion and action. She recommends praying “every day for a specific issue or candidate,” and taking some kind of action every day—anything from lighting candles and writing postcards to donating money and making get-out-the-vote phone calls. Action, if taken with purpose and planning, can ground us.
Franciscan writer and teacher Richard Rohr suggests limiting how much news we take in and how much time we spend on social media. When we are rooted and grounded, we can exercise our power to choose what we take in.
Even political historian Heather Cox Richardson is sounding like a guru these days. De-center the president and the other politicians and unjust, unfair situations that are driving you crazy and giving you nightmares, she says. Instead, center yourself in what you believe in, what is good and kind and generous and true.
The writer of the Letter to the Ephesians prays that we will tap into the immense spiritual resources God has given us. The very power of God, creator of the universe, is at work within us, he says, and the power of God’s Spirit can give us inner strength—the strength we need to be able to choose how we will respond to all that is happening instead of simply reacting to it.
We have been given the power we need to get through a pandemic. We have been given the power we need to cope with a difficult diagnosis. We have been given the power we need to shepherd our children through remote learning. We have been given the power we need to make it through Election Day and beyond.
We need only tap into this power. We need only root and ground ourselves in it, and let it work within us.
This power is what roused Gerald May, the psychiatrist and writer who founded the Shalem Institute for contemplative living and leadership, on his deathbed. His last words were, “Trust God. Trust Love. Trust God. Trust Love.”
Because when we do, we will not wither, even in drought. When we are rooted and grounded in God’s power, our house will stand firm, even in a raging storm. And God will accomplish far more in us and through us than anything we can ask for and everything we can imagine.
Raise your hand if you would like to see that happen.