Breaking Walls of Separation
Today, in spite of existing systems of domination, violence, selfishness, and consumerism, the Holy Family happens wherever we activate an alternative energy based on generosity, love of the excluded, justice for the powerless, embrace of the rainbow of loving human relationship, care for all creatures and our planet earth.
So let us heed the words of Fr. Gregory Boyle in the video we are about to watch: “Only the soul that ventilates the world with tenderness has any chance to change the world.”
Video: Fr. Greg Boyle’s Commencement Address to Notre Dame
In the wake of a recent blizzard, cars were buried in snow, curbs of intersections were submerged in a grimy soup, and sidewalks became paths of ice. One day I was rushing to work. The sidewalk appeared mostly clear, way more concrete than muddy slush. I passed a young woman in thermal boots that I thought was going much slower than necessary, and then, about half a block later, I slipped.
My mind had drifted, probably thinking about the coffee that I would have time to drink before work, when suddenly my thigh, then my torso, then my chin hit the pavement. It was a minor spill, more surreal than scary because it seemed to happen in slow motion. Nothing hurt, but as I slid and was pressing my mittened hands against the ice, trying to resist my fall, I almost laughed at my inability to stop myself. Then finally, the force of gravity propelling me ceased and I found myself kissing a Brooklyn sidewalk glazed with dirt and ice. This experience reminded me of the 13th-century Sufi poet Rumi, whom I have never really liked. Perhaps his poem has never found the right translator, but I’ve always found Rumi snoozerific and a bit pedantic. Nevertheless, I have been drawn to Rumi’s ideas and beliefs.
As many people know, Rumi was part of a mystical sect of Islam that celebrated its faith through a choreographed dance of spinning in long robes, the dancers known as whirling dervishes. As Fatemeh Keshavarz made clear about the Persian poet, this dancing was symbolic of the perpetual spinning of the universe and the idea that “everything in the universe is quickened with the force of love.”
The spinning dancers represented a willingness to be in harmony with the wonderful and wondrous chaos of the world. Though I still wouldn’t consider myself a Rumi lover, we share an appreciation of just how complicated each day on this Earth is, so many restless electrons, neutrons, atoms. Add to all that chaos the complicating fact that every person is a discreet planet, each subjected to its own ever-changing weather system of emotions, blizzards, heat waves, and drizzle. Every day we face the wildness of our own human experience.
And some days I am not able to whirl through all the wildness with the grace of an atom, or a dervish. Some days, I fall on the concrete on the way to work at eight in the morning because I wasn’t paying attention.
John O’Donohue, a poet from the west coast of Ireland who passed away a couple years ago, said before his death, “The world is always larger and more intense and stranger than our best thought will ever reach.” Rumi would agree that the world is spinning more wildly than we could ever fathom, but the Persian poet might then add that we need not fear because, if we fall, wherever we fall, there is love. You can’t fall wrong
These are the words of Charity Burns.
GOSPEL: Mark 1:21-28
In his brilliant essay “To Retrieve the Lost Art of Blessing,” John O’Donohue writes, “The force of a blessing can penetrate through and alter the inner configuration of identity. When the gift or need of the individual coincides with the incoming force of the blessing, great change can begin.”
This kind of change and reconfiguration means that a blessing is not always a comfortable and cozy thing. Sometimes the blessing most needed is one that involves confrontation and calling out, that requires standing against what is not of God. Such a blessing may be difficult to give—or to receive. It calls us to acknowledge and challenge and grapple with forces that thrive within chaos, forces that often work in ways that are exceedingly subtle and cloaked and require even more wisdom and discernment of us than when such forces take clear and obvious forms.
But, as Jesus shows us in this passage where we see him healing a man in the grip of a destructive spirit, such a blessing—the blessing that comes in facing the chaos rather than turning away from it, the blessing that comes in naming what is contrary to God’s purposes rather than letting it persist unchecked—makes way for the wholeness we crave. It brings release to what has been bound; it invites and enables and calls us to move with the freedom for which God made us.
“The human heart,” writes John O’Donohue in his essay, “continues to dream of a state of wholeness, a place where everything comes together, where loss will be made good, where blindness will transform into vision, where damage will be made whole, where the clenched question will open in the house of surprise, where the travails of a life’s journey will enjoy a homecoming. To invoke a blessing is to call some of that wholeness upon a person now.”
Is there some part of you that has become bound—that recognizes what is holy and craves its blessing, but fears the change that would be involved? Is there a destructive force at work in a person or system or institution you’re connected with, that you might be called to engage? Can you identify a first step that would help you confront what confines you or those around you?
Invitation to Eucharist
Tonight, I would like to bring all those who perpetrate violence as well as all the victims to our communion table. We stand in communion with them, for them. We believe as Teilhard de Chardin that what is God’s desire “is nothing less than the growth of the world borne ever onwards in the stream of universal becoming.” In his offering of the bread and wine he sees in its depths “a desire, irresistible, hallowing, which makes us cry out believer and unbeliever alike: ‘Lord, make us one.’ And in that spirit of a beloved community, “we extend the invitation of Jesus to each and everyone of you to take and eat, to take and drink. “Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again, come, come.”
Blessing in Chaos
To all that is chaotic in you, let there come silence.
Let there be a calming of the clamoring,
a stilling of the voices that have laid their claim on you,
that have made their home in you,
that go with you even to the holy places but will not let you rest,
will not let you hear your life with wholeness
or feel the grace that fashioned you.
Let what distracts you cease.
Let what divides you cease.
Let there come an end to what diminishes and demeans,
and let depart all that keeps you in its cage.
Let there be an opening into the quiet that lies beneath the chaos,
where you find the peace you did not think possible
and see what shimmers within the storm.