Saturday, September 10, 2011

Bearing Comfort

Loss happens. Terrible violent things happen. Even if we are some day successful in creating a world of justice where peace, love, mercy, and generosity fill every moment of every day around the world, loss will still happen.  We will still meet pain, even when we learn to stop inflicting pain on one another.

If there is a story that was challenged ten years ago, it is the story that if we are just good enough and deserving enough, then we can avoid pain and loss. Terrible things won’t happen. Except that they did. Terrible things did happen. Other events of terrorism had happened before. All kinds of violence had happened and still happens. Exploitation, abuse, slavery, eugenicism, genocide….so many more ways of terrible things that are part of the American story, that are part of the human story, that are part of the earth story. Terrible things do happen. Loss happens.

The question is what do we do with loss and with trauma? Do we allow it to harden our hearts with wishful hopes that we will never be hurt again? Do we lash out and hurt others? Do we carefully construct campaigns of revenge and allow this loss to be the defining moment of our lives, giving up all kinds of wonderful days and moments in order to undo a wound that cannot be unmade? Since loss comes to us all and trauma – at least until we get this peace thing down – is going to come to many of us, that’s a scary world if we respond by walling out love, by hurting others, and by living for revenge.  Having those feelings are all quite usual. I know them well. They can get a person through the short term loss. But they actually contribute to the cycle of violence.

My religion teaches me there is a different way. When I’m hurting, I don’t necessarily want to travel that different way. Certainly many of my spiritual ancestors chose not to go that way. But it is a way that I have found purpose, comfort, hope, and healing. This summer, on a Sunday when I found myself rather low, feeling a bit torn and tattered, I ended up at a small country church, where the pastor reminded me of Titus. I need that reminder regularly, being imperfect in love. So this week let me share Titus, and may we all remember our shared calling to be Titus and to give thanks for Titus.

Paul, writes of his travels through Macedonia that he is harassed and hurt over and over again, until he is being torn apart by others and by his own fear – what he calls “battles on the outside, fears within” (2 Corinthians 7:5). And then Paul says something extraordinary. He writes, “But God, who comforts those laid low, comforted us by the arrival of Titus.” (2 Corinthians 7:6).

Titus was the cupbearer of comfort, the one who brought Paul a reminder of God’s unconditional love right in the middle of Paul’s terrible time. Paul repented – turning away from his fear that was tearing him apart. He turned back toward God’s love, because Titus was there. In the middle of terrible times, we can be Titus to one another, cupbearers of mercy, holding onto each other and turning back to God’s love. In the middle of loss, we have something important to do: to keep loving and bearing comfort to those laid low, to others suffering, to others torn apart and alienated from love. And we can turn together, in solidarity, to be transformed by that love. Loss and trauma will happen. They have and they will. And so does merciful love, when we meet Titus and when we can be Titus to another.