There was an ancient tribe of people and the old leader of the tribe was dying.
Summoning three of the younger members of the community, the leader spoke of the future.
“When I die, one of you must succeed me as the leader of our people. I want each of you to go out into the world and bring back something of beauty. The one whose gift is most outstanding will succeed me.”
The young people departed, walking through the city and countryside where their people lived and worked. Some days later they returned from their travels. The first brought a flower from the parklands, rare and beautiful and delicate with a preciousness that called for great care.
The second brought a stone from the river that flowed through the city: it was colourful, smooth and round, polished by rain and sandy winds.
The third traveller’s hands were empty.
“Wise leader, I have brought nothing back to show you. I stood on the hill and looked out over our countryside and then I walked through our city. I marvelled at the beauty surrounding us. I breathed the clear fresh air. I listened to the carolling of the birds, watched the sun set and a huge pale moon rise and bathe all of us in its gentle light. When I wandered in our city I saw our people, rich and poor, young and old. Some were laughing with their friends, others sat alone. And I had a vision of what life could be like for us. I was so overwhelmed by what I saw in my dream and by what I was thinking and imagining that I have returned with nothing.”
The dying leader smiled and replied, “You shall be our leader for you have brought back the most precious gift of all – a vision for a better future.”
As we enter the unprecedented social upheaval occasioned by the COVID-19 public health emergency, and all the restrictions that we face – including our inability to gather as a community for Eucharist –the future seems grim. Events saturate us with uncertainty and anxiety. Much of that with which we are familiar is being little by little taken away. We wonder how we might survive – with our health, professionally, financially, religiously. We are as a small boat setting out on a turbulent ocean, perhaps knowing that there is another side, but not knowing quite what it might look like. Through the summer trauma of drought and bushfire, we suggested that life for us in Australia could not go on as it had previously. We had crossed a threshold that impelled us to live in a new way in this place. Now, such an intuition becomes stark reality in a way unimaginable only a few weeks ago.
The world itself has now come to the end of something. In time, through the pain and dislocation we are experiencing, the world will rise to something new. We do not know the contours of that new shore on which we will arrive. Yet, in the midst of the turbulence, the invitation is clear: the desperate circumstances invite us to see things in a new way, in a different way, in a deeper way. They invite us to see ourselves in a new way, to see those with whom I am connected in a new way, to see the world in a different way – to see our faith, our Church, our parish in a new way. When life cannot go on as it does normally, when all our usual patterns of living – and even of praying – are so disrupted, the cataracts of our complacency are stripped away. We are forced to see things with a freshness of vision. At first it can be confusing, but gradually we recognise life at its most basic, its most foundational, its most important. Out of the haze, albeit at first in an unwelcome way, we may begin to recognise a possibility coming to greet us – something that we had not ever previously imagined.
Even in the meantime, however, might we not see an opportunity? Through the week, someone sent me this beautiful reflection for our time:
And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised and made art, and played games, and grew gardens full of fresh food and learned new ways of being and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadow. And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous and mindless and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses and made new choices and dreamed new images and created new ways to live and heal the earth more fully, as they had been healed.
Our boat is small, the ocean is turbulent. But as Bishop Anthony said to me through the week, the boat is not without its rudder. We have the Lord with us. It is Jesus who journeys with us, who guides us, leading us little by little, opening our eyes wider and wider. It is his companionship with us that makes us beacons of hope even as the world becomes consumed with fear. It is his guidance that keeps us steady even as the world panics. It is he who keeps our eyes open, even as the shutters come down.
Lord, touch our eyes, as you touched the eyes of the blind man in the gospel today. Open them that we might see the promise of a new future that is always possible because of your constant companionship and passionate involvement with us. May we live in the light of undreamt possibility always. Through all that we now face, as we wrestle with all its particular challenges, give us the vision of a better future. Then we will have the greatest of gifts to give our world.
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