Sermon by Rev. Diane Rollert, 15 November 2015
The world changes overnight and every night. Mostly, we don’t notice — until something horrible breaks through in our own backyard or from beyond our borders. I have read that there is less poverty in the world and fewer conflicts and war than ever before in recorded history. A distanced view may confirm that reality, but it isn’t the reality we feel. Especially not today, not since Friday night when a youthful Paris full of light and life came under siege.
The numbers are astounding. The numbers are always astounding, whether in Paris, Beirut, or Baghdad. It seems as though we become less able to comprehend the carnage the higher the numbers climb. First the news reports tell us that 40 are dead, then 60 and by the end of the night they estimate 158. By morning we are told 129 lives have been taken in cold blood by gunmen without masques who have already decided that this is a suicide mission. Just the day before, 43 are massacred in Beirut — an astounding number, but we are numbed by the comparison.
Paris, City of Light, ville de liberté, égalité, fraternité. We know there are cracks in its image. There have always been cracks throughout its history. There are inequalities, injustices, social and cultural imbalances that swirl around that beautiful, romantic city. Paris is the stuff of dreams for some of us, and home or a second home to others of us here. I know there are cracks in our own image, in the actions the West has taken that engender more violence. I know that there are violent forces on the move across the world, who pervert religion and use it as its excuse to claim power by inciting fear in all of us.
How difficult it is for us to live with the challenge to “return to no person evil for evil.” Ne rendons à personne oeil pour oeil. But today is not the day to analyze social fabrics, politics or places to look for blame. In the days ahead, I pray that level heads will prevail over emotion. But today is a day to face our sadness, to connect as humanity to humanity, to face our own fears of a world that seems so deeply wounded and impossible to repair. Today is a day to honour the dead, to mourn the loss of children, parents, lovers and friends; to mourn the loss of young people with so much life yet to be fulfilled, who went out for an evening of entertainment, and never came back.
I found a French translation of Leonard Cohen’s song Anthem, the song with words that speak volumes: “There’s a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” I can’t say whether this is a very good translation, but I read these words for Paris:
Les oiseaux eux ont chanté
Au lever du jour
Ne vous attardez pas
Sur ce qui est passé
Ou sur ce qui va venir.
Ah les guerres elles
La colombe sacrée
Sera attrapée de nouveau
Pour être achetée et vendue
Et achetée encore
La colombe n'est jamais libre.
Sonnez les cloches qui peuvent encore sonner
Oubliez vos offrandes parfaites
Il y a une fissure en toute chose
C'est ainsi qu'entre la lumière.
The birds sing at the break of day, telling us to start again. Don’t dwell on the past or the future. You know that wars will be fought again. You know the dove of peace will be caught and bought and sold again. So let the bells ring, accept the cracks and trust that the light will shine through all that has been broken.
The great Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore, sings the praises of light: “Light, my light, the world-filling light, the eye-kissing light, heart-sweetening light!”
On good days that’s how it feels to me. I’ve told you before of the Sufi spiritual practice that calls us to simply fill ourselves with light, to stand before a sunrise or sunset and to feel it replenish our spirits. In Quaker tradition, it is the holy light within us that shines out upon the world. When we are true to our own light, it brightens the light in others. When we are untrue to that light, we can easily snuff out the flame that burns in the souls of those who surround us. From the Hindu tradition, we borrow the word “Namaste”. The light within me bows to the light within you.
But I can hear Leonard Cohen singing to us that loss, wars and disappointments are the imperfections, the cracks, that let the light in. He’s singing of resilience, of survival, of falling and failing and still finding strength. That this is the nature of all things.
There are those who quote Nietzsche, saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” There are others who proclaim that everything happens for a reason; that all the bad that is visited upon us is there to teach us new lessons and to help us grow; that those of us who survive disaster survive as part of some greater plan. I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that there is a God who reaches his hands down from the heavens and saves one person from the bullets and lets another die. I don’t believe that the survivor has been given some special ordained role to play. I simply can’t buy that. I believe that there is pain that we do not deserve — and I know that pain exists and cannot be avoided. Many things that happen are our responsibility. But we are not responsible for the illness, the death of love ones, the random misfortunes that befall us. This is what happens as we live our lives. This is being human.
“Some things are not meant to be fixed. They are only meant to be carried,” writes Tim Lawrence (an editor and life coach who writes a popular blog). Maybe that’s the best wisdom I can offer you today. I believe we all live with cracks and we all have burdens that we must carry. We live with disappointment, we live with grief, we witness violence and war up close, or from a distance — and so much of it makes no sense to us. How can it, when it seems so random, so unfair, so wrong?
Yet I do believe that there is something greater than each of us as individuals. I do believe that how we choose to carry our burdens does make a difference. I do believe that there is a light that shines through all things, that can still call us back to our better, peaceful selves. Something as small as #porteouverte (#door open) makes a difference; people in Paris letting those stranded on the streets know through Twitter that their doors were open Friday night. I don’t know you, but come stay with me until it’s safe for you to go home. French soccer fans offering shelter to German soccer fans. Small things filled with light.
I know we can’t be naïve, that there is a brutal world out there. But I also know that we need the light that replenishes us in the darkness so that we can move forward with love instead of fear.
So take a moment to close your eyes, to feel the light that surrounds us in this sanctuary. Trace the cracks that you know are there within yourself, within your life, within this world. Imagine the light pouring though each of those cracks, straining to be seen, to be witnessed, to shine out and renew all things. Hold that light for the city of light, for the people of Paris, for Beirut, Baghdad and beyond, for the families that will never be whole again, for the communities that will live in fear in the weeks and months to come, for the wounded world. Hold that light within you and, when you are ready, open your eyes.
Take a moment, if you will, to simply turn to the people around you to say to each other, on this last day of Diwali, “Namasté. The light within me bows to the light within you.”
Amen. Blessed Be. Namasté.
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