When The World Is Breaking Your Heart
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
The world, for all its beauty, can be a terrible place sometimes.
Little children are separated from their parents at the American border. Refugees in dilapidated boats are turned away from the Italian coast. The Syrian people, along with their country, are being destroyed in a never-ending war. The list could go on and on.
Then there are the less public, but no less painful struggles closer to home. The child who isn’t thriving; the friend whose marriage is falling apart; battles with addiction and self-loathing; the myriad wounds and scars we collect just from being a person living in the world.
What are we meant to do with all this suffering? How do we stay afloat in the tidal wave of grief and injustice that seems to be sweeping across the earth and sweeping us all up with it? How do we stay engaged without becoming either burned out or cynical? How do we keep caring without it overwhelming us?
On his podcast last week, Rob Bell had a helpful thought about this. He talked about the need to keep toggling back and forth between the close up view and the larger view. In the close up view, we do what we can to work towards justice: email our elected representatives, give money, get educated, seek wisdom on the best way to get involved and affect change.
We do the work of loving the people in our lives close up, too. We make time to be with people and listen to them; we offer our help in practical ways; we ask God to show us the best way to love our friends, our family, our colleagues, our neighbours.
It’s equally important, though to zoom out sometimes and look at the bigger picture.
At the start of John’s gospel, we are reminded that ‘In the beginning, was the Word…’ It’s a phrase that takes us right back to the book of Genesis and the very beginning of time. In the beginning was Jesus. At the end, there will be Jesus, and here and now in the messy middle, there is Jesus.
It puts me in mind of the Martin Luther King quote:
“Evil may so shape events that Caesar will occupy a palace and Christ a cross,” Dr. King wrote, “but that same Christ will rise up and split history into A.D. and B.C., so that even the life of Caesar must be dated by his name. Yes, ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’”
In his gospel, John is helping us to glimpse the 'arc of the moral universe;' to remember that everything we contend with and all of time is contained within the person of Jesus. There is nothing he cannot redeem, even his own death.
And even here, where things are not all as they should be, there are still moments of beauty and joy. There are still people showing up in lots of places with kindness and love.
To toggle out and see the bigger picture, I am finding it helpful to be outside, to take a walk somewhere that beauty will feed my soul. I’m stepping away from my phone and the endless news cycle of despair. I'm carving out space for silence and solitude. I'm reading and listening to things that bring me life, asking for help when I need it, being around people who know and love me.
Once the bigger picture is back in view, we find ourselves able to zoom in again: doing the work, loving the people, playing our part.
Perhaps as we toggle in and out, it can become a steady rhythm to sustain us, like the slow movement of the tide or the regular, unhurried breathing of a person at rest: inhale, exhale; inhale, exhale.
The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.