Articles, Essays & Sermons

More is at work than what passes for the news

Pastoral encouragement for dispirited lovers of justice

by Ken Sehested
(in Pentecost’s wake 2020)

“The riches and beauty of the spiritual landscape are not disclosed to us
in order that we may sit in the sun parlour, be grateful for the
excellent hospitality, and contemplate the glorious view.”
—Evelyn Underhill

Almost every breakthrough begins with a breakdown.

Spiritually forming work is almost always uncomfortable and troubling, sometimes painful, occasionally threatening. In order to learn some things, we have to unlearn other things. As in Jesus’ puzzling saying, those who seek their lives must first lose them.

In the psalmist’s majestic image, we are destined to lie in green meadows beside still waters. But for now we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. “For thine is the kingdom” begins the closing affirmation of Jesus’ model prayer. Just before that, though, is the petition “deliver us from evil.”

Come, ye disconsolate, wherever ye languish

I’m remembering the first time, as a child playing football, I had my breath “knocked out” of me. I was terrified and literally thought I was going to die. Sometimes the journey of faith entails moments like that; yet another source of Breath is available to those who trust, as we are tutored in being still in the midst of havoc, fearing not in the face of threat.

To put one’s breath on the line, from the most ordinary of daily interactions to the more dramatic and rare occasions, is a statutory element of spiritual growth.

As the Apostle wrote, there is a kind of foolishness to faith; but it is not random or haphazard or unthinking. In addressing the world’s anguish, we hope to be effective. But our perseverance is not hitched to efficacy. We insert ourselves, compassionately and intelligently, because that's who we are. (Or at least who we are becoming.)

The little flock of Jesus has a larger, farther horizon. If and when we are faithful, it is only because we have heard and heeded the Word considered implausible by the logic of the world as is now constituted.

Come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel

Beloveds, things are not as they seem. Live-streamed tragedy saturating the airwaves encourages voyeurism (translated: advertisers’ dollars) and blistered rage. Cast your gaze higher, farther, wider, deeper. Allow the Beloved to adjust your sight, to steel your engagement, to strengthen your weak knees, to introduce you to the joy sturdy enough to outlive every night of weeping.

Wait for, work for, intercede for Another Voice, the Paraclete, who is available to those without a prayer, to the indigent of heart, to the unarmed and the unassuming, to those not distracted by the propagandists and racketeers.

They who now prance among the princes of deceit know not that their sun is setting, their time is up. Heaven’s blessing on Earth’s creation has been suppressed but not recanted.

Even now, the advance guard of the new Heaven and the new Earth are breaching the empire’s walls of exclusion and treachery.

(New York City’s famed Wall Street, the global center of financial piracy, was in colonial times literally the location of a wall to protect the southern parts of the peninsula from Native Americans.)

Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish

So take your cues from the Comforter. She will silence every threat, unravel every peril, forestall every danger, to safekeep your heart from every disquieting murmur.

Fret not over your breath, whether it can be stopped. It is merely on loan, and will be replenished by the self-same Breath who tamed the squalling waters before the first dawn’s light.

Let your prayer be: Give us today our daily breath.

For now, watch and wait. For now, let the groans of your heart channel the moans from the tear gassed streets, from the pandemic survivors’ grief, from every traumatized body and furrowed heart.

Locate your body near theirs. Intercede with loud protestations, with patient works of mercy, with unflinching demands for justice. De-invest in every derelict structure; re-invest in every neglected neighborhood.

Practice penitence, which alone offers the chance to heal wounds, renew covenant bonds, and halt history’s march toward tragedy. Perform Pentecost, whose edict privileges the commonweal over corporate avarice. Harness yourself to love’s demand, whose power alone can turn back the tide of fear-fomented vengeance.

Always, always remember: more is at work than what passes for the news.

Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal

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©ken Sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org. Italicized centered lines from “Come Ye Disconsolate,” Thomas Moore, adapted by Thomas Hastings. My favorite rendition of this song is the bluesy arrangement by Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway.