Rooted resilience

I was a guest preacher a few months ago in these weird days of this in-between time. No one was there. I was alone in our upstairs bedroom, sermonizing virtually amid unpacked boxes in our combo rental home/storage unit.

The lectionary text landed in my heart with a loud thud. The apostle Paul declared: I do not understand my own actions. Nothing good dwells within me. Evil lies close at hand.

You and I stand at the edge of Mordor in this season of weird fruit, this time of testing. Karma hurries in, even as we kick and scream, straining to slam the door. We face our mortality — and our sense of self-importance cannot protect us from COVID-19. We recognize the outlines of privilege and white supremacy, but our best intentions cannot paper over structural racism.

Social distancing gives us time to wrestle with our hearts, our actions, our memories. We hear the words of judgment in Romans 7. Are we left with anything beyond a religious wish dream?

Last summer I rolled my worn, tired bicycle to a local shop. The bike is at least two decades old. I hadn’t climbed on it in years. Now I have ridden all across Louisville and even over the river to southern Indiana. I have biked in the cool of the morning and the afternoon heat, in perfect weather and during the rain, hiking laboriously up endless hills and speeding across creek side flatlands. I don’t ride very fast or very far. But…

I have worn myself out and kept riding.

I have wanted to stop and kept riding.

I have fallen and kept riding.

Right there, when I am spent, hunched over and undone, I have discovered the promise again. The end is not our faults and failings, not empty intentions and self-invested ideas. The end is ahead of us, where the light sparkles and the air is sweet and the Spirit sings. The end is the rescue and release of the living God.

There is more than these mortal bodies and more than our death-dealing ways. There is deliverance.

Twenty-five years ago I remember placing our two youngest children together in the bathtub. They are only two years apart. It was easy to put them in the tub at the same time, and I would sing to them:

Let all things now living, a song of thanksgiving,
To God our Creator, triumphantly raise,
Who fashioned and made us, protected and stayed us,
By guiding us onto the end of our days.

I hoped they would learn that life is all about grace and gratitude, rooted first not in our efforts and achievements (or our messes and failures) but in God’s providence.

I hoped that they would learn to trust.

Life doesn’t let us off the hook. Right now in this moment there are babies to be bathed, children to be comforted, strangers to be welcomed, unheard voices to be honored, good news to be shared and justice work worth every ounce of our energy to be done.

Perhaps one of the gifts of this strange season is a resilience rooted in God’s presence, a determination that comes on the other side of loss and sadness. Perhaps right now, even in our tears and our failings, lies the bedrock of our faith: a confidence that God is with us and for us, molding, remaking, forming anew.

When I was in seminary, every day I would walk by the campus banner that stood just in front of the central building. It was there on the way to the dining hall and class. At the time the message seemed very simple, but as the years pass, I now give thanks for its foundation: “The earth is the Lord’s.”

No matter what comes, this world is the Lord’s creation.

No matter what comes, we belong to God.

So no matter what comes, let us sing.

Glen Bell is a senior vice president of the Presbyterian Foundation. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky, and is a trustee at Louisville Seminary.