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I work as a teacher, poet and spiritual director at a number of institutions in the DC area. My teaching focuses in various ways on writing, poetry, Spirituality and Christian vocation and ministry - especially from the point of view of the laity. I also offer classes and retreats encouraging people to explore their inner lives, engage their creativity and reflect on their beliefs about God, vocation, and how we can discern and pursue new ways to transform our broken world. I enjoy speaking of faith in the secular academy as well as reminding those preparing for ministry in the Church that our primary purpose is to love and serve the world beyond the church's doors. I love helping people to grow in faith and to find their own voices, and I also love encouraging them to use their minds. I see no contradiction between these impulses, believing as I do that faith, reason and creativity work together.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Reconciliation in violent times-Eastertide musings



The rejoicing over Osama Bin Laden's death has me thinking again about how profoundly counter-cultural and radical the Christian message really is. Are we indeed called to "love our enemies" to this extent? Most of us find it very hard; but certainly it was as a Christian that I found myself troubled by the public rejoicing over the man's death. A number of emotions surfaced: compassion for those who had lost loved ones on 9/11, and for whom this event brought it all back -- some were relieved at having vengeance, some said it didn't change anything -- people my children's age were prominent among the celebrators - understandably relieved at having the enemy they have grown up with "gone." So I can't fault anyone for feeling the way they do at the man's death -- but at the same time I am praying that we will not be sucked into the folly of dancing on the grave of an enemy, as our enemies rejoiced after we were hit in September of 9/11. It leads nowhere.

I've been thinking lately about the gospel and empire (and may have more to say about this in further posts). A few months ago my husband and I were immersed in the HBO series "Rome" -- very instructive for seeing the world in which the gospel stories played out, and particularly repulsive and distressing was the way that conquered enemies were treated-- their bodies thrown out to be eaten by dogs, or paraded throug the streets in triumph, or left on crosses to die and then fall to the ground, to be left without burial rites. The Easter story, which we are living through now in our Christian liturgical observance, reminds us that it was both a political and a personal act of defiance for some of the most prominent citizens among Jesus' secret followers (Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus) to ask for his body -- the body of someone who had been crucified by the Romans--and to give him a decent burial: an assertion of humanity and compassion in the face of all-too familiar human brutality.

With that story alive in my memory I was very glad of the decision of those who killed our enemy to give him a prompt and respectful Muslim burial, even at the risk that it will make it more difficult to prove that it was really him we "got." I am praying that we will not be reduced to releasing gory photographs of the dead body though I don't have a lot of hope about that. But I was heartened by that expression of human decency -- that moment of not being Rome, dancing on the graves of our enemies, but acknowledging, in death, a common humanity. Hard to sustain, but it was a moment.

As I seek to live faithfully with the unfolding story in the news, two resources from my own branch of the Christian tradition are helpful to me. One is the collect for our enemies, in the Book of Common Prayer, posted on facebook by a number of my priest-friends, for which I'm grateful. It goes like this:
O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth: deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

We are so entangled, so complicit, in a violent culture that it is probably impossible to pray this prayer with perfect integrity, but saying the words is a start, whether we fully believe them or not. I'm grateful for a tradition that gives words to the prayers we should be praying - even when it's hard for us to do so.

I am also remembering my own post-9/11 experience, which I wrote about in the Fall 2006 issue of Weavings. My daughter at the time was a chorister at the Washington National Cathedral, and so was one of those who sang the anthem "My Shepherd will Supply my Need" at the nationally televised memorial service that was held at the Cathedral on September 14, 2011. What I remember about that service is that it started beautifully and humanly, as a gathering of remembrance and an honoring of the innocent victims of the attacks: and we have seen that same outpouring of remembrance, condolence and support with this announcement about Bin Laden's death. The anthem, based on the twenty-third psalm, reminded us that there is goodness that we can trust, even in the midst of violence and chaos. My memory is that this moment in the Cathedral service expressed the best in us at that service, which later degenerated, in my view, into a highly unsettling call for vengeance, following the president's speech, and the incongruous and deeply unsettling singing of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic"at the end of the service. But the choristers' singing is the moment I want to rest with now, so I'm glad one of them has posted it on youtube. I am hoping that we (especially we who seek to follow the Way of Christ) can hold fast to our fundamental conviction that compassion and love are stronger than violence and revenge, despite what the world seems to present. And learn to live that conviction.

That is the hope that the Easter season brings. The hope I hold to. May we have the courage to live out this hope, even in violent times.

5 comments:

  1. Very inspiring and consonant with my views, even if I am not a believer like you. I love the song you posted and I harken to words of the Bible to support what I feel should be our efforts to be compassionate. (Just finished Karen Armstrong's 12 Steps to a Compassionate Life, which I wish more people would read)
    "Prov 24.17, "Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice"; Ezek 18.32, "I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord"; Ezek 33.11, "I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked."
    Best, Maggie

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  2. Thanks so much for this Kathy, it expresses beautifully what I have been feeling and i am also very glad for the muslim burial at sea. I too have been surprised at the strong feelings of our kids generation. I don't think even they had realized how much the "search for Ben Ladin" has formed their narrative.

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  3. Thank you, Kathleen. To range the meaning (and emotions) of a decade in one place is hardly possible. You have reminded us all the more, then, of the power of faith (in this case Psalm 23) to speak beyond present valleys to "bring my wandering spirit back, [lest] I forsake [God's] ways."

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  4. This beautiful, thoughtful writing, Kathy!
    blessings, Trisha C.

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  5. Unfortunately, the "Muslim burial" wasn't according to Islamic tradition. Maybe the part about the time period to do it it, but why on earth did they even have Mr. Bin Laden's body at sea?
    They say they called this Operation Geronimo or somethign like that. Have you ever read how Geronimo was buried?

    Love your enemies. Do good to those who persecute you.

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