It was four weeks ago tonight that many of us watched the results of our Election. Younger sister, Betsey and her wife, Mary Ellen invited my older sister, Claudia and me to come over and watch. As the night went on, I further invited myself to spend the night on their couch, with the premonition that it would be a long night. As we gathered around the TV there were four dogs and four humans. "Good balance" I thought as I petted one of the dogs. I remember feeling hopeful.
When midnight rolled around and with it a growing dread of not knowing, Claud and her dog, Lucy said their good-byes and headed home. Soon my hosts and their pooches also headed on to bed. I stayed up for a while. At some point I drifted off but was back awake from 3:00 on until it was time to head on to work early Wednesday morning.
I remember feeling like I was keeping vigil all night. I’ve done that before with both parents in their last hours and have sat with some dear friends and a few others in their last hours. Time is different when you sit vigil. In those minutes into hours, it’s as though you are living in the past, present and future with almost each breath. Time is different. As I felt I was sitting vigil on that Tuesday night, I remember one question circling round and round, over and over again in my head: “Who are we now?”
There was a time in our country’s history when folks literally had to `circle the wagons’ in order to survive. They believed they were in mortal danger. Shoulder to shoulder, they fought like their lives depended on it. THEM against US. “You’ll have to pry this gun out of my cold, dead hands…”
And as I watched the results and news about absentee ballots being recorded in AZ and GA, in NC and WI that image of a long-ago desperation returned. Have we come to this place? Is it now our intent that communities are on one side of the fence or the other? Are our borders drawn around those who only think like us? Look like us? Love like us? Worship like us? Are we now living again in a time of circling the wagons? Are we most concerned with building the walls higher and better than ever before.?
Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to us of the Beloved Community. At the King Center here in Atlanta we are told: “Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.”
There is a story of a woman asking her teacher about the difference between heaven and hell. In the story the woman found herself transported to a great banquet hall with tables of all sizes, shapes and hues. She saw rows of people as far as she could see. She was overpowered by the noise and the chaos of the room. As she looked closer, she could see that tables were lined with an incredible array of foods from everywhere, bowls overflowing. “With all of this bounty, why is there so much chaos?” she wondered aloud. And then she began to see everything. She saw that everyone at the table had the longest spoons she’d ever seen tied to their arms. The ends affixed at their shoulders and extended all the way down past both hands. She realized that no one could bend their elbows. As she watched she saw the frustration and anger on their faces, and for the first time, she saw how thin everyone was. And in a blink of an eye the woman was transported again. At first, she thought she was in the same room, but this one was softer and quieter. She could hear laughter and people telling stories back and forth. As she looked, she saw the same long banquet tables, with the most delicious food. All the THINGS were the same. “What makes this so different?” Later when she told her story to all who would listen, the woman would say, “I felt what the difference was before I saw it.” All the people had the same long spoons tied to their arms, but the difference was – everyone was feeding another person. Down the long rows, she witnessed laughter and tears of deep knowing, `There was more than enough.’ For everyone.
When I think about the Beloved Community it begins with this story. We know well the despair, chaos and poverty of the first room. We have seen much of it our whole lives. 2020 has been the strictest teacher of my lifetime. The lessons feel as though they have almost been beaten into us. “Me and Mine” has been the banner flying high. “Build our borders higher and wider!” our motto. One-by-one the souls in the second banquet hall stopped. One-by-one they saw (perhaps for the first time) that the one across from them was starving to death, and there was so much food. One-by-one they began to feed the other. And that changed everything.
"Time is different here," I heard my Mom's voice say a couple months after her death. Journeying through these Covid-19 days, remind me of the gift of those words. You are invited companion me on this 2020 Advent journey to Bethlehem, as we seek Emmanuel, God who promises always to be with us.