Here is an unspeakable secret: paradise is all around us and we do not understand. It is wide open. The sword is taken away, but we do not know it: we are off “one to his farm and another to his merchandise.” Lights on. Clocks ticking. Thermostats working. Stoves cooking. Electric shavers filling radios with static. “Wisdom,” cries the dawn deacon, but we do not attend. (Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, 184)
If he were alive during this draconian election, I think Merton would have added, “power-hungry, disingenuous politicians (with the possible exception of Bernie Sanders) babbling over incongruous sound bites.” I excepted Bernie because he is flying above the fray as he deals with issues that are muting the dawn deacon. He is talking issues which strike at the heart of imperium–endless war, gross greed-driven consumerism, and rule by self-serving oligarchs and he has a consistent record from which to speak.
Whether you agree with my assessment of the candidates, one thing is certain. We have lost our moral compass. We know not where morality lies. True north is not on our radar scopes. Consumerism and technology have blunted our ability to hear the dawn deacon. We live in a culture of death and cannot find our way out of the moral quicksand. In the words of Daniel Berrigan, we are “blind, deaf, and, worst of all, heartless.” (Isaiah: Spirit of Courage, Gift of Tears, 33)
The politicians offer us modern versions of the old Roman bread and circuses ruse to keep us content but morally bankrupt as we snuggle in our little comfort zones. Churches, rather than preaching the Gospel, comfort the comfortable using an outmoded tribal god the assure us that the God of ALL is only on our side. The Gospel is about inclusion but they, churches and politicians, preach division scapegoating those who differ from them. They promise to keep building walls instead of bridges. We really are one but they want us to be many. All are not welcome at most communal tables, religious or secular. Our license plates read, “In God we trust,” but we spend over half of our national budget on security. Congress, in a rare bipartisan show (to distract us?), is passing legislation to deal with heroin and opioid addiction. (Have they ever thought about the factors in our warped culture that contribute to addiction?) We incarcerate inordinate numbers of minorities. We execute some of them mainly in Bible Belt states (where is the oxymoron here?). We continue to plunder our environment without regard for the terrible consequences. We murder innocents in the womb, on our streets, and in foreign lands. We let people starve fetid gutters in the Land of Plenty.
To realign our moral compass, we must begin with the Sermon on the Mount. Our call is to make feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, caring for the sick, educating the citizens for democracy (not oligarchy! We cannot afford to let the Tea Party dumb us down.), and setting prisoners free our highest priorities. We follow (not worship because Jesus never said, “Worship me.”) the Living Christ who taught us nonviolence, justice, mercy and compassion. This is the very Cosmic Christ who danced as Wisdom before the dawn of creation. Wisdom incarnate is the dawn deacon beckoning us to recognize that we are all really one. As true disciples, we must dismantle the insane perpetual war machine which divides, conquers, and murders.
Daniel Berrigan says that we must imagine the impossible in the face of the overwhelming odds set up by the powers and principalities. We dare dream impossible dreams. We dare to charge at windmills which will grind us to grist. We chance opening our eyes and realizing that Paradise is all around us. We know that the sword has been taken away.
Compassion and justice are the true north on our moral compass. We shall plant trees under which we will never shelter. We are about being faithful, not necessarily being successful.
I write this on Pentecost. Pentecost is about hope mid despair. The once fearful disciples who abandoned Jesus and went underground boldly proclaimed the Gospel message in the public square. Under the inspiration of the Spirit of the Risen Christ (which has been at work in matter and spirit since the beginning of creation), they answered the call of the dawn deacon. They put away their swords.
Daniel Berrigan wrote:
Indeed, the degradation of America serves to underscore once again the ancient stereotype and impasse of the nations described by Isaiah—imperial nests of sanctioned, perennial violence, of wars that are proclaimed “necessary” and, of course, “just.” Isaiah understood his times and ours—a world laden with memories of war and perennially prepared for another war, clumsy and indifferent in the skills of peace. It is an unlikely time indeed to offer a word of hope and imagination. Yet, the worst time, Isaiah dares say, is the apt time. (Isaiah, 18).
Will we answer the call? Will we let the coals that seared Isaiah’s lips sear ours so that we will speak out boldly? If we do not speak out, who will? Will we proclaim Gospel truth to the powers and principalities? We must allow the Spirit to inspire us with a sense of “the fierce urgency of now” (Martin Luther King); otherwise the universe will stop bending ever so slightly toward justice and compassion.