Greetings, SBT Readers!
Carnage abroad and carnage at home -- it looks as though Peace has flown the coop, white wings splattered with blood, tail feathers singed by an assassin's bullets. "Where is Peace?" we ask, dumbfounded that yet another massacre has bloodied American soil. Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, CA. on May 15, 2022; Tops Grocery Store, Buffalo, NY, on May 17th, 2022; and Robb Elementary School, Uvalde, TX, on May 24th, 2022-- where will be the next "soft target" where some deranged individual will unleash rage on the innocent? According to the Gun Violence Archive, as of May 27th, 2022, there had been 17,522 gun related deaths in 2022, with 216 mass shootings. When will we wake up to the fact that easy access to weaponry --especially to assault rifles-- guarantees that there will be more shootings and more lives cut short? It is not enough to shed tears and send "thoughts and prayers" -- action is required at every level of society.
There are those who blame guns for these tragedies, and those who blame mental illness; then there are those who blame both. Personally, I believe a more holistic approach is called for, one which demands hard questions. If guns are to blame, what types of guns and how can they be kept out of murderous hands? Who benefits from gun sales and why is the NRA a law unto itself? Why are there such lax regulations around gun production and ownership? If mental illness is the issue, then why do parents, schools and social workers miss the signs? Is it, perhaps, more accurate to look at social isolation, bullying, poor self-esteem and being a "misfit" as precipitating causes of mass shootings? Typically, those who shoot up schools and supermarkets expect to go out in a blaze of glory, their names immortalized; the more people they can take with them, the more they will leave their mark on history. Their suicides, then, coinciding with mass murder, are a final attempt at receiving recognition, even if posthumously.
We need to be looking at the antidotes to violence of every kind. Getting guns off the streets is the first step; the next is to create school curricula that are based on DEIJ (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice) and that cultivate hope, meaning, purpose, altruism and civic responsibility in our youth. Only when our children respect themselves and see a future worth living for will they grow into healthy adults.
Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed saying:
“Holy Father, I pray not only for them,
but also for those who will believe in me through their word,
so that they may all be one,
as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
that they also may be in us,
that the world may believe that you sent me.
And I have given them the glory you gave me,
so that they may be one, as we are one,
I in them and you in me,
that they may be brought to perfection as one,
that the world may know that you sent me,
and that you loved them even as you loved me.
With John's Gospel --especially with Jesus' priestly prayer at the Last Supper-- we enter into a different dimension of reality, a world of signs and symbols that carries us beyond the literal into the mystical. Each narrative is a window into spiritual understanding that can be examined layer by layer, taking us deeper into mystery with each unfolding. Elements of bread, wine and water, for example, while having a literal meaning, represent union with the Divine, passion for holiness and transformation of consciousness; similarly, "blindness" has to do with being unable to see on a spiritual plane while multiplying loaves and fish represents Divine abundance. In John 17, we leave behind narratives and instead enter into the praying heart of Jesus. Here, we eavesdrop on a profoundly intimate conversation between Jesus and the One he names as "Father." His prayer is one of union where He and the subject of His prayer are inseparable; so close is their relationship that they form a single loving reality that He desires to share not only with his disciples but with all those who come to believe through them.
The power of Jesus' words will sadly be lost on those who are more accustomed to "plain speech." The Last Supper Discources often come across as riddles and the references to "I in them and you in me" can bewilder, befuddle and confuse. After all, most of us don't use this type of language and the concept of our being "brought to perfection as one" goes against western ideals of individualism. What Jesus is saying implies that we need to leave behind our ego-driven selves so that we can be consecrated in God's Word and in Truth (Jn 17:17-19); only then, through grace, can we discover our true identity in union with the Holy One and with all those who follow The Way.
This journey to the heart of God is nothing less than a return to our beginnings. Different faith traditions use different language to describe the way we come into this world, "trailing clouds of glory" (Wordsworth, Ode on Intimations of Immortality). According to the Jewish Kabbalah, shards of Divine Light permeate the universe and it is the task of individuals to gather their allotted number of shards so they can return them to their Divine Source. Only in this way can the world be repaired and can humans find fulfilment; only in this way can we be at one with God and with each other.
As we ponder over what it means to be "one," let us think about all those things that we need to leave behind and all that we need to gather up. Though invisible, the shards of Light are awaiting us; when we return these shards to their original Source, we will become one with the Light that we seek.