Making Meaning

“Truth shall spring up from the earth,
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.”

“Normal will never return. I hope not.” An African-American friend said this to me recently. She was speaking about the experience of injustice and suffering that has been so poignantly exposed during the coronavirus pandemic: the strains and inequities in healthcare, the economic disparity, the hijacking of hope and trust, the infectious cynicism, the splay of racism. We have right now both the need and the opportunity to make meaningful changes in how we live and share life together. How to begin?

“Out of the death of the old the new arises,” Paul Tillich writes. “The new is created not out of the old, not out of the best of the old, but out of the death of the old.” What is it that needs to die to open the space for the new to arise? This is a very difficult and yet very liberating question to ask, on both the societal and individual level. Allow the current crisis to illuminate the way forward. A crisis is invariably enlightening. It oftentimes exposes what we have taken for granted, what we have assumed in privilege, what we have presumed we can control. Look around you: what do you now know that you did not know before this pandemic crisis began? 

The prophets of old promised a new thing that God wants to happen.  Make peace with your past first, to make space for your future. Here are three ways ahead to consider.

Put to rest what is dead or deadly. Laying to rest those presumptions and practices that are not retrievable, sustainable, or equitable helps make space for the new thing that God wants to happen in and through your life

  • What has died? A relationship, an ability, a privilege? You might be clinging to some desire or presumption that is on a ventilator, and it needs to be laid to rest. Conversely, you might need to let go of some positive life practice or experience that has helped get you to this point, but which no longer has a place in your life.
  • For what do you need to repent, where you got it wrong? Does your repentance need to be expressed in some way or to someone?

If Only

by FSJ member, Anne Schoellkopf Coke

How many “if onlys” are there
Subtly souring your life
Diluting the now, “the what is”
Stealing present joy with
Churning yearning burning
Dissatisfaction with
What has been given you
Pray the “if onlys” become
Irrelevant and change to
“Yes, as it is, is more than enough”
Gratitude replacing the
Yearning churning burning desires
Now rejoicing in the “what is”
And your life’s lovely gifts

Uncover the good. What do you know to be important as you look ahead, as you participate in God’s future? What have you discovered about life and about yourself? The English word “discover” has a fascinating Latin etymology: dis “opposite of” + cooperire “to cover up, cover over, bury.” A discovery is the opposite of a cover up. What has been unearthed or exposed in your soul coming out of this crisis? What good is coming out of it for you? I’m not in any way denying the suffering or terror of the ongoing pandemic; however I am saying there may be good coming out of the bad. Bad is bad; however bad may not be the last word. Is there good that has been revealed or can be redeemed from the bad as you lean into God’s future? One grace you may be in touch with is gratitude, how grateful you are for so much and so many. Take much less for granted in life, and you will find only more good for which to be grateful.

Claim your calling. All of us are missionaries with a distinct set of gifts and abilities, with unique accesses to specific people and places. What are you being called to do or be as you live into God’s future? Our portfolio in life changes. What your life was about 5, or 15, or 50 years ago may be quite different from now. The fact that God has extended your life into this day is a sign of your vocation, your calling, that God has for you a mission that only you can fulfill. If you find yourself immobilized, overwhelmed by the extent of the need that surrounds you on every side, you have overextended your reach. You must be you: who, and what, and where you are. Your calling is within your scope. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.” We never retire from our vocation; our vocation simply changes with the passages of life.

We have an innate, God-given craving for a meaningful life. Meaning-making happens in the context of life as it is – not as it was, or could be, or as we may think it should be, but in life as it is. The dawning of each new day brings a fresh invitation to co-operate with God’s intentions for that new thing God is doing. In Psalm 85 (v. 10-11), the psalmist prays: 

Mercy and truth have met together;
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
Truth shall spring up from the earth,
and righteousness shall look down from heaven. 

Whatever struggles the days ahead may hold, you will find meaning by playing your own part within God’s future. 


The Serenity Prayer

by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
enjoying one moment at a time,
accepting hardship as a pathway to peace;
taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is,
not as I would have it;
trusting that you will make all things right,
if I surrender to your will;
so that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
and supremely happy
with You forever in the next. Amen. 

1 Comment

  1. Jonathan B Appleyard on September 19, 2020 at 09:26

    Dear Brother Curtis,
    I am sitting quietly, now, letting the to do list take care of itself for a bit, stilled by your words. I am letting go of my desire to share them with others and letting them gather me to myself. This day is marvelous.

    Thank you, Curtis, for calling me to be like mycelium growing unseen by my surface awareness and drawing sweet sustenance out of what is tired, worn out, dry.

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