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Responding to a world on fire

First slide

I have lost count of how many times in the last couple days I’ve read the words, "the world is on fire." We pivoted quickly from discussing COVID-19 vaccines and the delta variant to grieving and despairing and crying out over Afghanistan. One thing remains constant, though. An awful lot of energy is being expended judging how other people are responding to the grave issues of the day.

As the school year begins, I have to stop and ask myself: Do I really have time to spend evaluating other people? Do I really have time to read all the things and to respond in quick order?

I don’t. These are heavy days. I want to meet them with grace and strength. I want to discern what my role is in managing crises with maturity and peace, regardless of whether that crisis is global or under my own roof. To do that, I need to nurture my physical, emotional and spiritual health. Judging how other people respond robs me of the precious margin I need for my own well-being.

I need to slow down, to refuse to rush to judgment, to decide not to enter into the fray. I don’t need to consume or produce a constant bombardment of information in order to be an informed and responsible citizen of this world and, more importantly, a co-laborer with the Lord in the kingdom of heaven on earth.

In order for me to respond well to a crisis, I have to give myself time and space to acknowledge that it exists. Sometimes, I think this first step gets lost in a cry of indignant anger that the problem is a problem. Sometimes, it gets lost because I want to just pretend it’s not there and hope it goes away. But what I really need to do is look the problem in the face, see it for what it is and maybe notice that it breaks my heart. This is a quiet, private movement.

Then, it is critical to lay that brokenness at the foot of the cross and wait for God’s response. There is a certain pouring out involved here, an unburdening, if you will. That is good and holy; God wants to hear. When I am finished saying it all in the presence of the Lord, I am called again to the quiet. I ask to hear his wisdom, and then I still myself and listen intently.

What is he guiding me to do specifically? How does he want the Holy Spirit to work through me in response to this crisis? How can I bring God’s peace to my life and to the lives of the people within my sphere of influence? This is a critical step in the process. What is within my control, and what is not mine but solely God’s or God’s call to someone other than me?

We are all called to service. In troubled times, we all have places where we can serve by bringing peace. Where are your places? Where are mine? I want to heighten my sensitivity to the needs of the people God has placed in my life — the people who are obviously "mine" and the people I may have missed at first glance because they are in places that might be a little (or a lot) uncomfortable for me at first. What are the stories of the people who hurt? How can I listen more intently to understand their pain? How can I serve them?

Can I serve without judging or comparing or condemning? Judging people does not often persuade them. People do not change their minds — about COVID-19, about Afghanistan, about abortion, about much of anything — when they are scorned or shamed. Contempt is the surest way to end communication.

Finally, when it feels as though the world is burning, it isn’t a cliche to take the time to give thanks. Not for the burning, of course, but for the grace. It is helpful to truly have a gratitude practice. That is, practice noticing the presence of God. It helps to intentionally articulate how good God is and to give thanks for him — all of him. Gratitude nurtures humility. Humility makes us sensitive to the fragility of the human condition and the needs of the people with whom we walk this earth.

We were put on this earth to know, love and serve God even when — especially when — it feels like the world is on fire. The kingdom of heaven is not burning out of control. It is here, now. Live in it, and let the Lord direct the pace and purpose of life here on the earth that he keeps spinning.

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, writes from Connecticut.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021

@elizabethfoss