04 May 2009

How to discern the ending of night from the coming of day

Jacqui Van Vliet

Last Sunday during the noisy coffee hour, I had a conversation with a church member who related the “defeat” of 08-b and her sense of mourning at this latest setback to full inclusiveness for all God’s children. It was one of those experiences where time stood still and the only thing in focus was that shadow moment, shrouded as it was in sadness and grief, as we each remembered those who continue to struggle for acceptance within the prejudices of our denomination. Once again this defeat would ask GLBT sisters and brothers called by the voice of God and community to wait for ordination, to wait for respect, to wait to be heard, to wait as it were in the shadows of others’ fears. I thought about the inability for some in our denomination to see the light of truth in this ongoing struggle. In biblical language, the shadow of night is often a metaphor for fear, for the fear of uncertainty in our lives. Equally so, the coming of day signals a growing confidence as an encounter with the light illuminates the beginnings of awareness on what was previously hidden.

There’s a story the rabbis’ tell about a teacher and his students who were trying to discern the ending of the night from the coming of the day. It goes like this: Long ago, an ancient rabbi once asked his pupils how they could tell when the night had ended and the day was on its way back. “Could it be,” asked one student, “when you can see an animal in the distance and tell whether it’s a sheep or a dog?” “No”, answered the Rabbi. “Could it be,” asked another, “when you look at a tree in the distance and tell whether it’s a fig tree or a peach tree?” “No,” said the Rabbi. “Well, then what is it?” his young pupils demanded. “The coming of day is when you look on the face of any woman or man and see that she or he is your sister or brother. Because if you cannot do this, then no matter what time it is, it is always night.” I love the truth of this story and believe it speaks to the shadows of fear that those who cannot accept human differences as God-given gifts live with everyday.

I decided to read the text of Isaiah 2:2-6, one of my favorites. This passage of Isaiah paints a moving portrait of a coming day where peace and diversity will exist in the presence of God and one another. It’s a vision that signals the end of a time of fear and uncertainty when the shadows of judgment, found in the surrounding chapters, have ceased. Isaiah tells us of this coming day when “the Lord’s house will be built on the highest mountain” and “all the peoples of the nations will climb that mountain” just to be in the presence of the One who lives and teaches from that place. It envisions a pilgrimage of seekers climbing together up the mountain. I imagine it’s a riotous parade of many different peoples, a noisy gathering of pilgrim travelers, engaged in conversation, in laughter and in community, recognizing each other in the light of day as sisters and brothers on the similar journey. All of them eagerly coming together to be in the presence of God, who will teach a new way of living – a radical way of peace and love.

In that coming day, God will sit at table as an arbitrator, reconciling dreams, hopes and fears with justice, love and grace. We’ll no longer have a taste for destruction, violence and war as oppression and hatred will have no place among the nations of our sisters and brothers. Isaiah’s prophetic vision is the divine peace of shalom, a peace of inclusiveness and wholeness without fear of one another’s differences. In that day, the fear that drives the prejudices that defeat changes such as 08-b will end as God’s instruction for living in love and peace is learned and well witnessed in the world. This vision is the desire of God who embraces all creation and invites us to hold this same desire within us as the genesis of hope. This is hope that can ignite the beating of every heart, the place where peace and love is either made or tabled.

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