The world’s heart hangs heavy in her bosom this week.
A soccer stadium full of people, a concert hall full of people, restaurants full of people. Now more than 130 dead and hundreds injured in Paris, the city of light. On top of recent suicide bombings in Beirut, Lebanon, that killed dozens of people and the bombing of a Russian jet over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula that killed all 224 people aboard.
“When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed;
this must take place, but the end is still to come.
For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom;
there will be earthquakes in various places;
there will be famines.
This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.”
And it’s scary, isn’t it? With this unrelenting barrage of terror and horror, we might wonder if the end times are here. Are we going to self-destruct? And why would Jesus put the end of times in such a violent context? That doesn’t seem like him, does it?
What are we to make of all this?
“Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind;
and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake;
and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire;
and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.”
What we used to translate as the “still, small voice.” The still, small voice in which Elijah found God. The still, small voice in which God spoke. What we now understand to mean a silence so strong, so deep, that we can hear it. Feel it. And that silence speaks to us today: “ … do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come.”
The end is still to come. The end that we believe in, that we anticipate as we approach Advent, the liturgical season in which many Christians look towards Jesus’ second coming. The end time when Jesus will return, gather us all up into his arms and enact the fullness of his commonwealth. When love will fully – and finally – prevail over hatred. When hatred will serve as the footstool of love.
So where do we look for hope? For signs of that love that is stronger than all the self-destruction we as humanity can engage in? How do we find a way not to be alarmed?
We find hope in the world leaders who stood up and decried Friday night’s barbarism. We find hope in the flowers of all colors – white, yellow, purple, gold — laid at shrines around the globe in honor of the victims. We find hope in the candles lit around the world for those who were killed and wounded and for their families, friends and communities. And, we find hope in other places, too.
Recently, I was at a worship service in which two choirs were singing. As the two choirs sang – both providing us with extraordinary music – I studied the one with racial diversity and thought how great it would be to be in that choir. I wondered: Where do they meet to rehearse? When? And am I too old to be in their group?” A young woman came forward with her electric guitar to sing a song called “Oceans.” Another young woman played a wooden drum. As the soloist sang, I thought her to be on a par with the eminent Irish singer Enya and wondered if the group had recorded a CD of their music. I noticed that casual beige slacks showed below the hem of the singer’s robe.
It was not until the bishop leading the service announced that the group was the Voices of Hope choir from the Lee Arrendale State Prison in Georgia that I realized that inmates comprised that choir. That it was inmates who were filling that space and our souls with that glorious music. As that reality began slowly to spread into my consciousness, I saw then that all the women had casual beige slacks on under their choir robes. I saw prison security seated in the congregation to ensure order.
At the offertory, the bishop announced that money donated would go to the choir for instruments and other needs. The ushers inadvertently overlooked several rows, including mine, and people were so overwhelmed by the experience of the music performed by that group that they signaled to the ushers and had them come back to take our contributions.
When the service was over, the Voices of Hope choir started to sing again. The congregation sat back down to listen, and when they were finished, we all stood up, gave them a standing ovation, with yelling and clapping. We were overcome with, subsumed by, the power and joy of their music.
So it is: In the midst of the horror, we cling to the still, small voice; we cling to the candles and to the words of comfort; we cling to the flowers of all colors; and we cling to — and we become — the voices of hope.