Psalms 111, 112, 113, 146, 147
Amos 1.1-5, 13-2.81
I’ve been hearing about vigilance lately. A number of people speak of it as a problematic response to painful experiences. Many were not cared for in the broad and deep ways that children need in order to flourish. Some experienced traumatic events beyond anyone’s ability to protect. One reaction to these kinds of experiences is to develop a strong sense of control—control of self, control of surroundings, planning for what might happen next. We know that self-control is a virtue, but even virtues can become prisons. Is it not the common human desire for control, which comes to all, also what gets in the way when it comes to trusting that Someone is at work in the world, reconciling all things to that One?
Reading 1 Thessalonians and Luke, we can listen for fine tuning of these responses that can bring life or can squeeze the life out of us. Both in the first century and in 2011 are those who desire above all things to know what will happen next. Some go so far as to predict when Jesus will come again. 1 Thessalonians 5 is fairly clear—no one knows when it will happen. It cannot be noted on calendars or arranged to fit into schedules. As a child I found it alarming that no one could know. Was not knowing what made it possible to plan, and do the right thing? As adults, still learning, we began to wonder if there is not a strong difference between the kind of alertness that can see grace at work in a moment and vigilance that wears out every moment trying to plan for the next and the next and the next. Reading today’s Luke passage we begin to hear what was echoed centuries later by Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” There is still plenty to learn, but gladly now there is the realization that not knowing when makes it possible to live each day, not as if it is the last (vigilance) but live each day as if it is each day, precious, full of possibilities. Luke and Thessalonians give witness that none of our doing can save us from heartbreak and trial. And none of our doing can bring what trust in God already brings: light, assurance, a place to stand and a holding when we fall.
Professor, School of Religion