When Paul authored the letter to the Romans, he addressed a community which contained a large number of both Jewish and Gentile Christians. And, as this community sought to live into the way of Jesus, it is theorized that there was significant conflict. We get hints of this when Paul uses the language of calling to describe the gathered community, when Paul reminds them that they are called according to God’s purpose (and not their own), when Paul makes clear that they are not to accuse, nor are they to condemn--because such is not the way of God. Thematically, Paul reminds the community again and again of God’s impartiality--and in this he argues for the full inclusion of all.
And, then speaking to this factionalized communities need for reconciliation, Paul theologizes around a truth of shared brokenness--brokenness between each other and between us and God.
I have spent a great deal of time considering this brokenness over the last two weeks. At the conclusion of last Sunday’s sermon, I encouraged people to read the paper (yes, in church) and then spend time in silent prayer for the hurting places in the world. When I read the propers for today, I was struck that last week when I encouraged this silent prayer I was not thinking of Paul’s description of “sighs too deep for words” nor was I thinking of the importance and centrality of recognizing our shared brokenness in the work of reconciliation.
That sense of helplessness when we see another's tragedy and feel we can do nothing to correct or influence the outcome...and out of our exhaustion and the deepest part of our being we sigh...
Sighs too deep for words...
Sometimes the being there is enough with these sighs too deep for words. Expressing our fellowship, our empathy, grounded in shared grief and understanding
When I worked as a pediatric chaplain, I saw this fellowship. Parents who shared nothing but adjoining hospital rooms and the experience of a sick child found themselves friends--offering support through the long nights and compassion during the long days.
While the majority of the patients I worked with identified as Christian, there were times when I was called for people of other faiths. As a renowned Children’s hospital, we often had patients from other countries. Usually, these children arrived accompanied by their mother--leaving the rest of the family at home. These moms rarely spoke English and I can only imagine how frightening and isolating the experience of being reliant upon a translator was. In the case of women from the Middle East, the interpreter was an Arabic speaking volunteer from a local mosque. A kind and compassionate man, I had great respect for the care he provided--but, given the reality that he was a volunteer, there were times when it could take awhile for him to get to the hospital.
So, one day, I was called to the room of a very sick child whose mother spoke only Arabic. She was clearly frightened and I remember seeing her and thinking of how very alone she must have felt.
And so, I joined her in the window well seating area immediately outside her child’s room. She wore a hijab, the traditional scarf worn by Muslim women, and I wore my clericals--black shirt and white collar. She was literally shaking as she wept and while I waited with her, I used the only Arabic I knew...
Insh’allah, insh’allah, I said.
I invoked God's blessing and will, insh’allah. And, then when I did not know how to pray as I ought, I remained silent...
There were no other words but tears and sighs. She clutched my hand and with the only words I could speak spoken...we sat--two women worried over a child, forgetting all that might divide us.
Sighs too deep for words.
As I ponder these moments of empathetic intimacy, I consider the publicity drawn when those who culture deems enemies engage in what seem to be extraordinary acts of forgiveness.
The father of a slain college student meeting with the father of his son's killer--sharing in the pain of losing a son--and out of their pain calling for reformation of gun laws.
Stories of Israelis attending the funerals of Palestinian children. And of Palestinians offering their condolences to grieving Israeli parents. In a recent National Public Radio interview of a Palestinian child, the interviewer asked the child if he wanted the Israeli children to suffer too. The child, in great seriousness, said, and I paraphrase, “no, they are children like me, they do not want this and they have not caused this--my mother says they are frightened too”.
Mutuality emerges, I did not wish that for them. I do not wish this for me.
When those separated by culture, by tradition, by war, by history, by death and by vengeance are united in the grieving, in their shared experience of brokenness, reconciliation can happen.
Brene Brown, a social worker who has studied vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame speaks of the importance of leaning into the discomfort of making ourselves vulnerable because, ”connection is why we are here, it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives...the ability to feel connected is neurobiologically how we are wired and why we are here...[but, just as] when we ask people about love they tell you about heartbreak, when you ask them about connection they tell you about disconnection...in order for connection to happen we have to make ourselves open to being really seen”.
And, I would add, that for reconciliation and new connection to happen, we have to be open to really seeing.
When we make ourselves vulnerable in shared presence and shared pain we bring into the experience the grace and love of the kingdom of God. Brene Brown writes that those who feel love and belonging feel themselves worthy of love and belonging--in this passage from Romans we are reminded most vehemently that God considers us worthy of love and belonging.
With no partiality, with a uniting Spirit interceding in our human brokenness--we receive the gift of abundant grace from a God who loves us as we are. In our brokenness and in our wholeness, in our sighs and in our breath--we are loved and we belong.
Paul is adamant that, no matter how broken we may be, God’s love is fundamental and unbreakable. God’s grace is radical. God’s grace is victorious, God’s grace is all-encompassing--for as Paul writes,
“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
I am convinced that neither death nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
And in this,
God's grace, like the mustard seed
God's grace like the leaven
We will always have grace enough
This grace, which is our treasure, this grace abundant...
Even in those moments of sighs too deep for words
Perhaps especially in those moments of sighs too deep for words.