Recently, I read about the primatologist, Jane Goodall, observing chimpanzees in the Gombe National Park in Tanzania. One day, Goodall writes, she observed two chimpanzees meeting each other in the early evening, apparently after they had not seen each other for some time. The two chimpanzees tenderly and joyfully clasped each other’s hands and then proceeded to climb together to a nearby ridge, where they sat side by side. Then silently, and leaning next to each other, the two watched in perfect stillness as the sun set below the distant horizon.
One of the most remarkable things about our National Day of Thanksgiving is that it grew out of adversity and hardship. No one could have faulted the Virginia colonists or the pilgrims of the early 17th century if they had chosen to declare a day of mourning. After the severe losses they sustained, there was every reason for sadness, bitterness, and dejection.
Recently, a parishioner came to talk with me about a particularly painful event in her life, an event that involved unimaginable cruelty and ugliness. When she finished describing this deeply upsetting and life-altering event, an event that decimated many people, she said simply, “So, I want you to tell me what to do, because this situation feels unbearable.”This happens a lot; it’s a reason many people turn to religion. In this case, the parishioner knew I would not be able to wave a wand or give her something to do that would make it all better. She is a person of deep and mature faith. When she said, “I want you to tell me what to do,” she was really just saying, “I am lost and in pain; I cannot see the way forward.”
When I woke up this morning, I noticed two major news stories. The first was that the Nobel Prize in medicine had been awarded to three scientists who had identified a kind of inner clock in plants, animals and humans that keeps our biological rhythms in sync with the earth’s revolutions.
A strong “Statement of Unity” is being issued by faith leaders in Richmond on Monday, denouncing racism, nationalism, and white supremacy. It originated in the conservative, evangelical Christian community, whose leaders signed it and invited representatives of “mainline” Christian churches to join them. By the time I saw it, many people whom I admire and respect, both in the conservative Christian community and in the more progressive churches, had signed on. I told one colleague, the strength of character of some of the signatories was so great that it made me want to sign on myself, just so I could be associated with them.
Psalm 85 was appointed for Sunday, August 13, the day after violence erupted in the streets of Charlottesville, and one of its more poetic verses stood out for me:
A parishioner died recently, after a six-year battle with cancer. There were years when she held out hope that this cup would pass her by. Treatments seemed to work beyond everyone’s wildest dreams. Then there were setbacks, blood tests indicating the cancer’s rapid return. New medications would again bring promise, and we would all celebrate. Then, more setbacks. Up and down like that for years. And finally, the reality set in – she was dying; even if a miracle drug appeared, her body could not take any more treatment.