Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Hostility vs Joy

While Jesus predicts that people will die of fear “as they await what menaces the world” (Luke 21:26), he says to his followers: “Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36). After I gazed for a long time at [Andrei] Rublev’s Trinity [icon] these words spoke to me with new power, “Praying at all times” has come to mean “dwelling in the house of God all the days of our lives.” “Surviving all that is going to happen” now tells me that I no longer need to be victim of the fear, hatred, and violence that rule the world. “Standing with confidence before the Son of Man” no longer just refers to the end of time, but opens for me the possibility of living confidently, that is, with trust (the literal meaning of con-fide) in the midst of hostility and violence.     –Henri Nouwen

There is so much hostility and violence on display in the world. War, violent crime, oppression against groups of people—these may be the first things that come to mind when we think of hostility and violence. Social media though, increasingly reveals to me that hostility and violence are not just “out there” in other countries, in certain neighborhoods, and perpetrated by dictators, gang members or others that might fit our definition of “likely suspects.”

The perpetrators of violence I am most familiar with are people of comfortable means, church goers, business leaders—the folks we work with, worship with, play tennis with, travel with. Hostility, violence and hatred show up in what is posted or shared on Facebook and Twitter. What such postings reveal to me is that many who would claim to be Christian are not interested in living with confidence in the midst of hostility but would rather participate in promoting hatred, hostility and violence.

I’ve been thinking about St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast day is October 4. He saw God’s light in creation. He found joy in what others bemoaned as paltry. He reached out in love to those who practiced a different religion than his. He let go of the values and culture of his family and joyfully embraced a life outside the mainstream, eschewing status and wealth and instead embracing poverty and simplicity.

He could do this because he had nothing to protect or defend. He was dwelling in the house of God while living in a world of hostility and violence. He trusted God to be God for him. He lived the gospel of Jesus, and his rootedness in God’s love meant he poured love out wherever he went.

In the midst of a society that is more interested in bringing a kingdom of hostility and violence than in bringing the kingdom of God I want to emulate his joy, his vision, his way of dwelling in the house of God. We need the spirit and theology of St. Francis.