Courage to Retrieve the Beloved

The following is the text of my short offering during a service last night (1/14/23) in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. at American Lutheran Church, Grand Junction:

It was a beautiful Mother’s Day. We gathered the kids, an aunt and uncle, and headed out to celebrate the day. Our destination was Miracle Rock (aka Potato Rock). We reached the stunning geography, admired the rock, and decided to mill about, and let the toddler down from her hiking-backpack. For what 18-month-olds lack in fine motor skill they make up in large motor function; my daughter could run. And she did. She was! In moments, a blink of an eye, with no warning, she bolted out of reach before we knew what was happening. Her new-found freedom provoked her confidence and, to her, the entire world spread out and needed to be suddenly investigated. But what she couldn’t see, her parents did: the edge. We called her. She didn’t stop. We started to run after her but she was too far ahead of us; we wouldn’t make it in time. Plus, wouldn’t chasing her become a game? No way to catch her as the deadly horizon drew closer. Desperation kicked in; reality fell like a heavy blanket. Out of options! With what felt like seconds left to change her trajectory, to interrupt her path, I waved off my husband and did the only thing I could do in that moment. I gathered up every ounce of strength I had, and I hollered: “LIZA! STOP!” so loud every muscle flexed, and I sent myself backward. But she stopped. Mom-voice hopped up on the steroids of love and life, she stopped. Mid stride, feet from the edge, she collapsed into a ball on the ground and wept. My husband was closer than I was and able to retrieve our weeping mass of baby; she was safe.

Love sounds her maternal yawp against looming destruction, life fights back the tentacles of death.

There’s a confession embedded in the theme of today’s service; the exhortation to develop courage means we must reckon with the fact that if we had courage we lost it. Where did our courage go? Maybe its buried under lethargy; everything feels so exhausting right now. Maybe our courage is gagged by forgetfulness; we move on faster and faster from traumatic events (because terror is becoming normal). Maybe our courage is trapped under fear; there’s no assurance and security right now (sending three kids off to school 5 days a week, my one prayer is please bring them home to me tonight). Maybe our courage is confused; disoriented behind weaponized walls of cis-het whiteness, patriarchy, and Christian nationalism. Or maybe our courage has atrophied; malnourished by lacking creative and curious activity, starving for hope and mercy. Whatever the reason, we must confess we do not have more courage than we did nearly three years ago and whatever we had then is now gone. The world is not better, it is not safer, it is not more alive.

Love sounds her maternal yawp against looming destruction, life fights back the tentacles of death.

While we stand in a very vulnerable place, aware of our lack, there is good news. It’s here, in the fleshiness of our confession where we’re beckoned by love’s voice into the arms of life out of the threat of destruction and out of the grip of death. These two need be our despotic rulers no more; because here in this meeting in the vulnerability of confession, clutched by love and life we are reconciled with our courage to resist their tyranny. Courage is not mustered up from the isolation of ourselves by ourselves, it cannot come to the surface if we continue to turn more and more in on ourselves by ourselves. Rather, it is born (again) in our triune comingling with life and love; because, in our individual confessions we see and hear that we are not alone, we stand in and with a great crowd of other witnesses. Consumed by the divine spirit of life and love we are invited to start again not alone but together. We are exhorted to take hold of our courage again, together. Here, with each other, we begin again, we begin anew. Here, with each other, we are emboldened to stand up however we can, reanimated with verve and vigor. Here, together(!) we are resurrected out of lethargy, out of fear, out of forgetfulness, into love’s land of daring curiosity and life’s audacious creativity; repowered to dream dreams, to have visions of possible impossibilities, to imagine the creation of better worlds marked by liberation and justice for all. Here we find what was lost: ourselves, each other, and our voices. And if we find these, we find courage abundant because we are a force to be reckoned with together.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, in his Sermon “Paul’s Letter to American Christians,” said,

“The greatest of all virtues is love.…In a world depending on force, coercive tyranny, and bloody violence, [we] are challenged to follow the way of love. [We] will then discover that unarmed love is the most powerful force in all the world.”[1]

Here, together, in the word of love and life we are given the potent and visceral force and strength (the courage!) to sound our maternal yawp against looming destruction, to actively join in life’s fight against the tentacles of death to retrieve the beloved (our siblings and ourselves) from the tentacles of death.

[1] The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Paul’s Letter to American Christians” Strength to Love Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2010. 153.

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