As I pondered what message I might offer during the heat of midsummer and a time when freedom is celebrated, I both heard and felt the words of Scripture sounding in my being. Freedom rings true when we live in the land of the living. Liberty which flaunts self-absorption both denies life and invites a deadly blindness.
Thus, the words of the psalmist are piercingly real. “I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.” I know I can only whisper them lest I betray my faithlessness. I hope I can begin to speak them before I can proclaim: “I know that I am able to believe, or I will to believe.”
The psalmist calls us to a profound faith and also, perhaps surprisingly, a strange one. In the past number of months, the world has been plagued with statistics, stories, scenes, and suspicions of death in the land of the living. It was, and yet remains, a pandemic curse upon the globe and all its inhabitants, human and animal alike. We have felt a serious loss of control. More clearly, we are yet feeling a truth which we’d rather deny than accept. The truth is we are not called to be controllers of the universe. We are called to be connectors within it. We are called to be companions, lifesavers, and life-givers. We are thus titled with, not entitled to, a faith which encompasses all the goodness of those who dwell in the land of the living.
Yet, we know we are living in a complex and complicated universe where death and life invite a macabre dance. We step to the music of a masked ball where defiance and submission dip and bow by turn. Each pushes the other for position, power, and leadership. Each mocks the other for its apparent submission or exalted strength. Yet, in this very stance, we are summoned to belief, to renewed faith, and revived vision.
Our global perspective must change. We need to move from bemoaning the bad, exorcizing the evil, and individually deciding what is to be retained and what is to be released. Instead, we need to become people who are always inviting the good things of God into our universe. Better said, we need to close our eyes and remember all that is good, everywhere and in all things.
This is not to be naive, unthinking, lacking in discernment, or maintaining a stance of denial or avoidance. Quite the opposite, it is to be thinking, discerning, opening to newness while recognizing the worth of all that is. It is to welcome surprise and know it bears goodness. Such faith is as powerful as it is prophetic and promising. It reflects a heartfelt, heart-held belief that both surpasses and underscores any dogmatic statements.
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee put it this way: “Our heart knows what our mind has forgotten—it knows the sacred that is within all that exists, and through a depth of feeling we can once again experience this connection, this belonging.”
Close our eyes and remember the connectedness of all that is. I recall a homily delivered by Fr. Steve Patti, a Franciscan friar and pastor of a large parish in Raleigh, North Carolina, on the Feast of the Ascension. Before he offered his insights, he reminded all of us (the cyber community, socially distant and held in the disarming presence of a pandemic) that the example of connectedness he would present was not his, but belonged to Saint Francis of Assisi. He spoke about the sense of loss and absence we experience in pandemic crises as akin to the feelings of Jesus’s early followers as they gazed up into emptiness where once they had discovered fullness of heart and mind. He preached: “They are left dazed. A sense of presence and communion and being together with the risen Lord has given way to some new uncertain thing. What will they do now? What will their lives be like without that presence they had come to depend on? How do any of us adapt to the absence and loss of someone or something once so familiar?”
This is a costly freedom. This is a call to find ourselves in each other and see ourselves as each other. Humanity is us, so to speak. “Like the disciples in the first reading from Acts, we are caught between a sense of what we used to know, and something emerging which we do not yet know,” Patti continued.
The something which we do not yet know, I would opine, is already hidden in plain sight. It is the connectedness we both embrace and decline, almost simultaneously. Freedom lies in our choice of connectedness, no matter the possible pain we might feel in its presence.
When we engage with the sense of unity proclaimed by Saint Francis of Assisi and many others who truly see the other and know it is us, we enter the wonder of relatedness. Referencing the founder of his order, Patti reminded his cyberspace listeners of a crucial truth: everything is connected.
No matter how often we repeat those three words, a blessed trinity of truth, we seem never to grasp them fully. Sometimes, the more “connected” we are forced into being, the less authentic the unity becomes. Like the proverbial surfeit of honey, the sweetness suddenly sours. However forceful freedom is, it does not and it cannot be forced.
Saint Francis learned this truth as we all can learn it, by living in the darkness in order to see the light. It is discovered when we close our eyes in our own unique and individual dark places and remember the goodness that used to be—remember it not as a fond recollection but as a faith-filled recollection and remembering. Hear the words from Acts, “why are you looking up at the sky?”, and understand, like Francis, that it’s in the interconnected and interdependent world around us that God is continuously revealed.
An anonymous author completed the picture for me. Perhaps it will assist you. “The present is the past, struggling to become the future; the future is the past returning through another door.” The real truth is this: we are free to open that door, slam it shut, or bar it completely from entry or even viewing.
Let freedom ring true in our hearts. It’s our choice, individually and universally. It will lead us deeply into the good things of God to be discovered in the land of the living.
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives (a trilogy of scriptural meditations), lead volunteer chaplain at Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center, religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer, and grandmother of four. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org