The title of this reflection is derived from an article written by Richard Rohr, OFM. It set me back on the heels of my own sense of futility. What in the world could I, might I, should I be contemplating as an action to be taken to restore dignity to a world that has largely lost it?
I am only one person. More than that, I have little authority or power or resources to evoke change. I cannot speak of transformation until and unless I myself engage in its process. Questions sound their seriousness. They pound at my apparent complacency or ignorance or reluctance or fear. Should I retreat to a cave of solitude devoid of solidarity? Should I bury my head in a sand of soundlessness and speechlessness? Might I allow my eyes to be blinded by the brilliance of a carefree existence lest “care-full-ness” cause me to speak truth to power?
The questions both abound and pummel me with concern. I try to place my dilemma into prayerful contemplation. Communication with Divinity eases my pain, but does not seem to provide a resolution. I receive the promise of divine majesty, but I want divine magic. I want a “handyman” God who will enter the household of humanity and fix its ills. Make the problems go away. Return us to the bliss we thought we had and now recognize we have lost.
We are drowning in a sea of complacency. And we have lost who we are.
We read biblical accounts of a charged world on fire with spirited faith. Spiritual leaders inspire us with sermons that entice our remembrances of times that once were and still can be. We count our blessings and suffer our losses. Yet nothing seems to touch the issue of the loss of human dignity that plagues our steps of holiness. Our world is charred with indignity when it could be, must be, charged with integrity.
Is this paradise lost and never to be found? Or is it an opportunity to regain the promise of paradise to be learned at the foot of the cross? Is it the commanding call of divinity that impels and empowers us to take a second look at ourselves, our universe, our companions and friends? It is an urging and urgent command to see ourselves in others, and for others to see themselves in us—an incredibly empowering union of beings.
Rohr suggests that God’s theological message is clear. God loves everybody. All of us, without exception, are divinely loved! And there’s the rub. If we truly examine our hearts and minds, we will note the many times when divinely universal love is not what we seek. We want to be loved particularly, individually, personally—not mixed in a mélange of humanity. We want to be loved for what we do without sparing a gaze or glance at who we are. We are toddlers seeking attention and attendance. Love then means “Look at me!”
Rohr sees the message of the Pentecost experience this way: “God’s love and favor are both totally democratic and unmerited. This was meant to be the end of all exclusive and elitist religion. Sadly, it did not last long.”
Interestingly, the message was delivered to a fractured world devoid of human rights. This, in the upside-down universe of transformation where God reigns, gives me a strangely powerful hope. If the known world of yore was transformed from emptiness to fullness, from no rights to universal rights, can it not happen again?
Might we work to admit our enslavements, indignities, injustices, oppressive behaviors, and ongoing divisions so that unity might be restored and renewed? Might we not dare to shout, as Paul shouted to the people of his time and into this corrupt and corrupting empire, “One and the same Spirit was given to us all to drink!” (1 Cor 12:13). He utterly levels the playing field: “You, all of you, are sons and daughters of God in Christ Jesus . . . where there is no distinction between male or female, Greek or Jew, slave or free, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26-28).
Paul’s world was divided then. Our world is similarly divided now. Our universe of countries and churches, families and neighborhoods, is torn asunder. Watching the melee as it is portrayed via multiple media outlets, we wring our hands in dismay, even disgust. Then, invariably and in a variety of ways, we proclaim our inability to do anything about it. We wait in prayerful hope that God will take care of it—probably by sending somebody else to take on the task.
Yet our deepest selves cannot deny our common humanity. We truly are in this mess together. If we are in it together, it would seem that the best route to take would be to resolve it together. We can take those initial steps if we truly desire a return to our original bliss—life experienced with and through the presence of a universe held in the embrace of God’s love. Painful though those first steps might be, the power of unity-community will ease the path and strengthen us on the way. It will be a walk with Emmanuel: God-with-us!
Long ago, my husband painted a seascape depicting a bridge across a span of water. The bridge had no perceivable beginning nor ending. For me, it is a metaphor of life. It is also a song of love, universally and individually experienced. It is, for me, a cry for human dignity:
The Bridge of Life
underscores the nurture
to be discovered
beneath the limitless span
of unending openness
an extension of friendship
supported by pilings
of love and laughter
peaks and valleys
to be traversed
alone and together
in the quiet solace of expectancy
a stillness that denies expectations
it is the bridge of life
always being discovered gently
yet deeply savored
by a fractured universe
Fran Salone-Pelletier holds a master’s degree in theology. She is the author of a trilogy of scriptural meditations, Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives, from which this selection is taken. She is also a religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer, and grandmother of four. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.