I was recently tasked with writing liturgy for an upcoming denominational gathering. One of the themes I had to work with was "rejoice." The Scripture passage for the day was Philippians 4:4: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice."
Given that the denominational gathering may possibly end in a schism, it was hard to bring words to "rejoice." Add a season of personal depression to the mix, and the words simply refused to form.
Finally, as the submission deadline approached, I turned to a writing and prayer method that had proved cathartic in the past: I wrote about how and why I was stuck. It ended up something like this:
who are the greatest love and wisdom I can imagine
I confess I refuse to rejoice.
I refuse to rejoice in the brokenness in our lives
in the poisoning of the planet
and in the violence in our world.
I refuse to rejoice in the inequality between peoples
in the harm brought by poverty and racism,
in the diseases that ravage bodies.
I refuse to rejoice.
Only by naming what was wrong could I begin to see what was right. I started to notice and name places where I experienced God at work.
When I shared a good conversation with a friend, I named it as a "holy encounter." I acknowledged small victories for justice, like the Rochester Community Warming Center and media and community support for families facing disasters. I listened for stories of healed bodies and relationships.
This is what grace looks like to me right now: a space to hold frustration and confusion while still honoring that good things keep happening.
While the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. popularized the idea of "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice," I prefer an older version by Unitarian Pastor Theodore Parker.
He wrote: "I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see, I am sure it bends toward justice."
Parker’s version has more uncertainty, holds space for despair, but ultimately ends in hope.
This season I am discovering even when I refuse to rejoice, I will not let go of hope.