While we were out to dinner with friends last night, the conversation naturally fell to the current state of the world, our country, our city, our street -- all of them troubled by political battles between rich and poor.
What can we do? How can we help? And how can we keep from becoming discouraged as we watch events apparently careening out of control?
There are two passages in my current reading -- Beginning to Pray, by Orthodox bishop Anthony Bloom -- that speak to this challenge:
"In a world of competition, in a world of predatory animals, in a world of cruelty and heartlessness, the only hope one can have is an act of mercy, an act of compassion, a completely unexpected act which is rooted neither in duty nor in natural relationships, which will suspend the action of the cruel, violent, heartless world in which we live."
"I never ask myself what the result of any action will be -- that is God's concern. The only question I keep asking myself in life is: what should I do at this particular moment? What should I say? All you can do is to be at every single moment as true as you can with all the power in your being -- and then leave it to God to use you, even despite yourself."
It seems to me that, as people of faith, we are invited to be -- in whatever way seems to come to us in the moment -- lights in the darkness, to be the yellow tulips that brighten these dark stairs, to stand as beacons of faith in whatever way feels appropriate in the moment, even when the picture we're seeing at the time seems plagued, even overwhelmed, with darkness.
... which makes me think of this hymn they used to sing in my grandmother's Baptist church. I thought it was terribly hokey at the time; it had a way of raising my feminist hackles -- sort of "don't you worry about the troubles of the world little girly, you just keep the front steps clean, the kids quiet, and food on the table" -- but it does (perhaps because I'm older now and not out saving the world) seem to speak some important -- or perhaps just reassuring -- truth:
Do not wait until some deed of greatness you may do, Do not wait to shed your light afar, To the many duties ever near you now be true, Brighten the corner where you are.
Refrain: Brighten the corner where you are! Brighten the corner where you are! Someone far from harbor you may guide across the bar; Brighten the corner where you are!
Just above are clouded skies that you may help to clear, Let not narrow self your way debar; Though into one heart alone may fall your song of cheer, Brighten the corner where you are.
Here for all your talent you may surely find a need, Here reflect the bright and Morning Star; Even from your humble hand the Bread of Life may feed, Brighten the corner where you are.