by Clint Baldwin, Executive Director We had included this reflection in a monthly newsletter to our staff but wanted to make it available to friends of Word Made Flesh as well. Thank you for partnering with WMF and being a part of God’s work to bring healing, hope, and peace to our neighbors in need around the world.
There is much good happening in our communities, but there is also much pain and sorrow. It can be difficult to hold aspects of good and harm in some form of healthy connection and healthy tension. Yet, the scriptures extol us to find ways to “mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice.” The thing is that we are always people of multiple emotions. We often find ourselves simultaneously rejoicing and mourning various things. Of course, one emotion can take precedence for a time. However, when we mourn a person whom we love having passed away, if we consider it, we also rejoice for those whom we love that yet remain. When one person celebrates an accomplishment or a birthday, if we consider it, we mourn those who have not completed a task or have no one with whom to celebrate and/or essentially no means with which to celebrate.
Particularly as community members of Word Made Flesh, where the choice is specifically made to immerse in contexts that bear significant difficulties and harms while determining faith, hope, and love rather than cynicism, despair, and hate as our driving motivations, we likely often come to the table bringing strongly conflicting emotions with us.
Today, we are simply reflecting on a poignant time in the midst of this ongoing conundrum of our lived experience. Even as many, many good and beautiful things are happening, people in and/or related to our communities and the communities themselves have been navigating significant hardships and the world at large continues to be a place where much travesty occurs.
A young man who was with WMF-Chennai since he was a baby recently had his “home calling” at 21 years of age. WMF-Chennai was his home and his family…he is dearly missed.
WMF-Sierra Leone, has just once again experienced devastating flooding in Kroo Bay. The home of one of WMFSL’s staff member’s has been directly affected. Tragically, a teen with mental and physical disabilities who has been connected with WMFSL since he was young was unable to escape the flooding and has perished.
We have staff members who are navigating loss of family members, navigating significant personal illness and illness of their family members, and navigating other exceedingly difficult family situations.
On a larger scale, the United States has just experienced two mass shootings in one weekend and as of July 31 has experienced 248 mass shootings this year which averages to 1.2 shootings per day (with 979 people shot and 246 dead). There are various ways this is all debated, but suffice it to be noted that much violent death and bloodshed is occurring. The Philippines has just declared a national dengue epidemic after 146,000 cases reported since the beginning of the year and 622 mosquito-borne disease deaths. The Dem. Rep. of Congo is experiencing the second largest Ebola epidemic after Sierra Leone, with 1,857 deaths and 2,774 infections (as of yesterday) since August 2018. There is concern about this spilling across borders of neighboring countries. In July, the World Health Organization declared this a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern.” The first time this designation has been used. There is now a 99% effective vaccine, but doctors are being attacked by militia groups and there is vast lack of trust among local village populations. Beyond immediate harms, there are often huge social stigmas to overcome for survivors. Children who lose a parent to ebola can find themselves abandoned and at the mercy of all kinds of other social harms that arise with the loss of family, etc. Yemen continues to experience war-related famine hardships and fatalities. As well, simply not from starvation, but from directly related war attacks, more than 7,500 children have died in the country since 2013 – that’s more than 1,000 children per year dying just from war related violence.
We could go on, and unfortunately these are just some travesties from the current moment. To this current moment we really should add conscious and unconscious remembrances of past harms that we carry both personally and collectively.
Our lives are often fraught with much grief. However, as Corrie Ten Boom – survivor of the Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany during WWII; sent to the camp due to being a Christian who chose to risk her life to aid Jews – declares, “there is no pit so deep that God’s Love is not deeper still.”
I leave us with a prayer that was read by my pastor at church this last Sunday during our morning service. The prayer is from Every Moment Holy (2017) written by Douglas Kain McKelvey.
“A Liturgy for Those Who Weep Without Knowing Why”
LEADER: There is so much lost in this world, O Lord,
so much that aches and groans and shivers
for want of redemption, so much that
seems dislocated, upended, desecrated,
unhinged—even in our own hearts.
PEOPLE: Even in our own hearts
we bear the mark of all that is broken.
What is best in this world has been bashed
and battered and trodden down.
What was meant to be the substance has
become the brittle shell, haunted by the
ghosts of a glory so long crumbled that only
its rubble is remembered now.
Is it any wonder we should weep sometimes,
without knowing why? It might be anything.
And then again, it might be everything.
For we feel this.
We who are your children feel
this empty space where some lost thing
should have rested in its perfection,
and we pine for those nameless glories,
and we pine for all the wasted stories in our world,
and we pine for these present wounds.
We pine for our children and for their children too,
knowing each will have to prove how this universal pain is also
personal. We pine for all children born into these days of desolation—
whose regal robes were torn to tatters before they were
even swaddled in them.
O Lord, how can we not weep,
when waking each day in this vale of tears?
How can we not feel those pangs,
when we, wounded by others,
so soon learn to wound as well,
and in the end wound even ourselves?
We grieve what we cannot heal and
we grieve our half-belief,
having made uneasy peace with disillusion,
aligning ourselves with a self-protective lie
that would have us kill our best hopes
just to keep our disappointments half-confined.
We feel ourselves wounded by what is wretched,
foul, and fell,
but we are sometimes wounded by the beauty as well,
for when it whispers,
it whispers of the world
that might have been our birthright,
as unreachable to our wounded hearts
as ancient seas receding down
some endless dark.
We weep, O Lord,
for those things that,
though nameless, are still lost.
We weep for the cost of our rebellions,
for the mocking and hollowing of holy things,
for the inward curve of our souls,
for the evidences of death outworked in
every field and tree and blade of grass,
crept up in every creature, alert in every
longing, infecting all fabrics of life.
We weep for the leers our daughters will endure,
as if to be made in reflection of your beauty
were a fault for which they must pay.
We weep for our sons,
sabotaged by profiteers who seek to warp their dreams
before they even come of age.
We weep for all the twisted alchemies of our times
that would turn what might have been gold
into crowns of cheap tin
and then toss them into refuse bins
as if love could ever be
a castoff thing one might simply be done with.
We weep for the wretched expressions of all things
that were first built of goodness and glory
but are now their own shadow twins.
We have wept so often.
And we will weep again.
And yet, there is somewhere in our tears
a hope still kept.
We feel it in this darkness,
like a tiny flame,
when we are told
Jesus also wept.
So moved by the pain of this crushed creation,
you, O Lord, heaved with the grief of it,
drinking the anguish like water
and sweating it out of your skin like blood.
Is it possible that you—in your sadness
over Lazarus, in your grieving for
Jerusalem, in your sorrow in the garden—
is it possible that you have sanctified
our weeping too?
For the grief of God is no small thing,
and the weeping of God is not without effect.
The tears of Jesus preceded
a resurrection of the dead.
O Spirit of God,
is it then possible
that our tears might also be
a kind of intercession?
That we, your children, in our groaning
with the sadness of creation, could
be joining in some burdened work
of coming restoration? Is it possible
that when we weep and don’t know why,
it is because the curse has ranged
so far, so wide? That we weep at that
which breaks your heart, because it
has also broken ours—sometimes so deeply
that we cannot explain our weeping,
even to ourselves?
If that is true,
then let such weeping be received, O Lord,
as an intercession newly forged of holy sorrow.
Then let our tears anoint these broken things,
and let our grief be as their consecration—
a preparation for their promised
redemption, our sorrow sealing them
for that day when you will take
the ache of all creation,
and turn it inside-out,
like the shedding of
an old gardener’s glove.
ALL: O Lord, if it please you,
when your children weep
and don’t know why,
yet use our tears
to baptize what you love.
Again, our consoling reminder per Corrie Ten Boom, “there is no pit so deep that God’s Love is not deeper still.”