For this column, I planned to write about the force-feeding of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. I researched force-feeding in history and the Declaration of Tokyo, which includes force-feeding among other methods of torture. Then my mind expanded beyond the torture of being fed through a tube because of a hunger strike in the wake of prison conditions. What is force-feeding in the light of being held permanently, without charges or an expectation of trial or release?
So, I resolved to write about the continued housing of prisoners in Guantanamo, until I considered the drone strikes. Until I looked at the numbers of people being killed, innocent people as well as “guilty” people, each day without just cause. Frankly, without any cause. Feeling more tired, I resolved to write about drone strikes.
Drone strikes it was, until the bomb explosions at the end of the Boston marathon. “I like this show,” my son commented as we saw the television screen in a doughnut shop. “I like the flags waving. It’s nice.” He did not see the smoke or the people running in fear. We could not hear the sounds and he did not see his mother droop in exhaustion- overwhelmed by the events of the world. “The flags are nice,” I murmured- revising my writing already.
Driven to comment on fear in our time and in our streets, I began to write about Boston, only to hear about the deaths in Iraq and Somalia due to bombings. Shall I just write about peace, the hope of peace, and the end of war? And then, finally, in seeking some specific fact, I come upon information of earthquakes in Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, and Oklahoma.
What can I do? What do my little words on this page mean? Do they change anything? They do not. A light shines in the darkness, but the darkness is deep and thick and, frankly, holding this light can be exhausting. What blooms in a scorched earth? My faithful actions- protests, prayers, payments, persuasions- seem weak and ineffectual. They are impotent- producing no fruit. Why bother- because if I never again hear “God is present in this” or “Look for the helpers”, it will be too soon.
Then I read about the Ethiopian eunuch meeting Phillip. I read about a man who was geographically, ethnically, and sexually outside of the worshipping community and yet he read the scriptures. A man with no expectation of inclusion in God’s salvation still read God’s story. The Spirit moved in a man who would produce no fruit from his loins to bring forth, in him, fruit for the kingdom of God. The fruit of faith in the Ethiopian was not a dogged pursuit of orthodoxy, to get the ideas correct. The fruit of faith was action- powerful action. “Here is water- what is to prevent me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36) Faithful action can always find footing, no matter who we are. The Spirit does not stop God’s work of inclusion and healing. The Spirit does not end God’s work of restoration and reformation. The Spirit does not cease to work peace and bring faithful action to fruition.
For this column, I still hope. As I write, I am warming up to speak truth to power about prisons and justice, about drones and freedom, about peace and the future. The words appear on the page and the flame flicks up again. The typing sounds are the echoes of the wings of the Holy Spirit- hovering nearby and whispering, “The Lord hears your cry of ‘How long’!”
My cry, our cry, is not greater than that of saints and sinners throughout time, of all creeds and races, of all practices and refusals, of all hopefulness and downtrodden status. And the same Spirit has heard these pleas. The same Spirit advocates for all who cry. The same Spirit that stirred the gospel hope in unexpected places still stirs over the chaos today. That same Spirit brings forth all of God’s gifts.
What else can I do in the power of the Spirit? When that Spirit says “pray”, I will pray. When the Spirit says “speak”, I will speak. When the Spirit says “stand up”, I will stand. When the Spirit says “grieve”, I will grieve. When the Spirit says “go”, I will go.
And when the Spirit of creation, of fruitfulness and healing, says, “Sing. Sing for a world that needs a song of peace. Sing to the world a song of light and hope. Sing the tune of Christ- unbuilder of empires and builder of community. Sing joy to the world that still thinks that military power and political prowess will win the day. Sing joy to the world that needs to know the power of resistance, of neighbors, of cups of cold water, and of gentle patience. Sing joy to the world though you are tired, though you are burnt-out, though your voice is hoarse and weary. Sing for the hope that is within you. There is music here- what is to prevent you from singing? Sing joy to the world.”
When the Spirit says “sing”, I will sing.
Julia Seymour is an ordained minister of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She serves a small congregation in Anchorage, Alaska. She enjoys reading, cooking, and camping with her husband, their two children, and their faithful Labrador Retriever