Soaked in the Peace of Christ by Paul Blankenship

Christ the little girl

Christ is a little girl locked in a basement cellar. Starving, she hasn’t eaten in weeks. Abandoned, she doesn’t know where her parents are. Someone—somehow, for some reason—is pumping a poisonous gas into her basement from upstairs. It is filling the room and becoming the air she breathes.

There is one window in Christ the little girl’s basement. Though she tries to break it open—and free herself to live free of her suffering—her hands are too weak. They bang and slap at the window and then bleed and break. As the poisonous gas fills her lungs, Christ the little girl is dying. Breath by breath.

She is gasping for air now, choking. On the floor—in desperation—she pleads for help.

Everyone hears Christ the little girl’s plea for help, but few understand it. We hear the plea on television and the streets and social media every day. Everyone sees that Christ the little girl is dying, but no one is paying close enough attention. We often look at her presence not with love but fear. We often respond to her suffering not with compassion but violence.

Father forgive us, for we know not what we are doing.

Christ the little girl is living in your enemy. She is dying in the person you hate. Christ the little girl will forgive you but—right now—she is pleading with you to turn the poisonous gas off. To stop cursing her. To have compassion. Understanding. To speak life. Christ the little girl is pleading with you to open the window. To let her breathe. To let her forgive and be forgiven. Without much time left, she is telling you that her window cannot be opened with something that destroys. Please, she says, put the bat down. Put the gun away. Only peace will open the window, she says. She says this in her cursing and negligence; in her hatred and violence. Only peace will set me free, she says.

Christ the little girl pleads for peace in the body of your enemy.

Mother forgive us, for we know not what to do.

Brother. Sister. Friend. Christ the little girl. Forgive us, for we know not what we do.

A divided time

We live in a divided time. We live in a shared wound infected by emotional hatred. Democratic against Republican. Police against people of color. Big business against the poor. Science against religion. Muslim against Christian. Fundamentalist against the world. Father against daughter. Humanity against environment. Often, we become who we are on the basis of the others we reject. Rejection is a power that glues people into place. In this divided time, emotional hatred spreads like an unseen virus. A poisonous gas. A glue used to divide. Somehow it seems and feels right to scorn and ridicule and humiliate the people who threaten us. We do not labor to free the people we hate from their suffering. In fact, we may pray for the people we hate to catch the virus of their own hatred. If we took the virus of emotional hatred as seriously as we do COVID-19, I imagine we’d have the kind of peace Quakers long pray for. This—that emotional hatred be taken as seriously as COVID-19—is only an absurd proposition or fanciful idea when a culture is oppressed under the demonic weight of cruel capitalism and has given up faith that Christ comes to make this world new.

In her book, Waiting for God, Simone Weil wrote that religion is nothing more than a perspective. Religion, in her provocative manner of speech, teaches us to see the world in a particular way. Its fundamental assignment is to set our soul’s gaze in a specific direction. It is an astute observation we can relate to. Quakerism, we often say, is most essentially a learning how to see that of God in everyone.

An anthropology teacher of mine has written that every generation meets god in their own manner. God made us in God’s image, as people often say, and we return the favor. Though we trust that God is universal—that the Spirit transcends space and time—history teaches us that how people come to see and experience God is colored by the unique culture they live in. Culture is a shepherd for sacred longing and seeing.

When the colonies were founded, for example, God was imagined as a kind of invisible police officer who queried into your mind and finances and threatened you with eternal damnation if you didn’t have your domestic house in order. Slothfulness was the great sin of the day. Poverty was evidence of forthcoming hellfire. In the late 1900s, Jesus was imagined as the manliest of manly men in order to save the culture from what many ministers saw as a curse of feminization. It was a great sin for a boy to grow up and be too much like his mother; a sign of spiritual weakness.

In the late 60s and early 70s, Jesus was a hippie. He was cool and with it. You could meet Jesus on an acid trip—as a founder of the church I grew up in did—or take a walk with him through the forest, smoking pot.

Last week, I suggested that we look for the universal Christ in the current political uprisings over racial and economic injustice. I invited us to consider Christ in the black and brown lives matter movements because I honestly believe Christ stands in a particularly sacred way with those who struggle for life and justice against the currents of ignorance and bigotry and hatred.

Today, I am suggesting that we remember that there is that in God in the person who you least expect and hate the most. The police officer who lynched George Floyd; the other officers who were complicit. Nancy Pelosi, Donald Trump, or any other powerful social architect. Christ is in the person standing in the way of justice and peace and truth as you imagined it. In your adversary, Christ calls out for peace.

Language is always a poor flashlight on the often-dark road to divine love, the road I think friends are supposed to help one another travel. The metaphor of Christ the little girl who lives inside your enemy is one limited way—not to manipulate the senses—but to illuminate truth. There is no person or creature divine love does not inhabit. Love is, in the final analysis, what is most real. Everything that is not of love will one day be washed away, forgotten, made new. Nonviolently, we are called to wash hatred away with the healing waters of divine love.

Jesus did not come for the healthy. He came for the sick. The sick is not just the person dying on the side of the road or alone in a hospital or prison. The sick is also the person who has become possessed by hatred and violence. Personally, I cannot think of a greater and more insidious sickness the human spirit could suffer. We are sick when our lives are animated by hatred and violence, whether we came to embody that hatred and violence by social conditioning or personal freedom. Though we are called to fight nonviolently against injustice, we are also called to heal the haters who perpetuate injustice and the systems that create the uniforms people step into.

Let she who is without sin cast the first stone.

Come, Jesus said, follow me.

Soaked in peace

The art of peace is not mastered through intuition. Effective peace work must be learned. Fortunately, we have a number of brilliant peace teachers in the world. They include Jesus, the Buddha, Howard Thurman, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Cornel West, Marshal Rosenburg, Pema Chodron, Thích Nhất Hạnh, and many others.

Peace work and enemy love—whether in our own house, at work, on the roads and highways, or among nations—also, in my mind, requires being soaked in the peace of Christ. To love our enemies and build peace in a time marked by radical division and emotional hatred, we need to open ourselves to a power greater than ourselves. I do, at least. I need Christ the divine beloved—who swims fiercely and gently in the waters of culture—to empower me to pursue peace with the people I hate.

I want to close by inviting you to consider the spiritual practices that help you soak in the peace of Christ. And I want to suggest that you commit to such a practice with great sincerity in the coming months. Give one half hour a day to a spiritual peace practice—to whatever soaks you in the peace of Christ. As our world continues to grapple with the wounds of racial and economic injustice—and our own nation enters a new and profound election season where leaders will exploit our divisions—we need to be rooted and grounded in the peace of Christ through regular and intentional practice. And perhaps remember that the first battlefield is in your heart.

Sometimes I like to do a practice some Pentecostals call soaking prayer. Soaking prayer involves turning on music that helps you feel God’s love and laying down on the floor with your arms open like you are a sponge soaking the song of divine love into your deepest pores. You do nothing other than accept—experientially, on faith—that you are the beloved of God.

Maybe there is only one rule when it comes to soaking in the peace of Christ—do not do what tradition tells you or what your inner critic says. Instead, follow your own unique soul’s pull into the peace of Christ. No one knows your soul’s gravity except you. And Christ. Your love affair is exceptionally intimate and personal. Go dance there, naked and unafraid.

In Matthew 11, Christ speaks:

28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? [Politics?] Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

In John 14, Christ reminds us:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

This message was given to Spokane Friends by Paul Blankenship on July 5, 2020, during Sunday morning worship service.

 

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