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Healing the World

Jewish tradition tells us that healing the world is an imperative - it is our calling, our purpose even, to collect the shards of light from all over and within creation, and piece it back together little by little. This is a difficult concept to grasp unless we begin with Mother Teresa’s quote: We can do no great things, only small things with great love.

Small things… many, many, many small things work together to heal the world. What was the last small thing you did for another? For someone you didn't know? Have you said, "Thank you"? Have you held a door open, or reached something on a top shelf for one of us smaller folks? Have you send a card or made a phone call? Have you helped someone shop, or brought someone food? And what about the world? Do you recycle and compost and buy locally?

As small as these things are, we can never underestimate the power of kindness.

In Romans 12:9-18, Paul isn’t just giving guidance on how the Christian community in Rome should behave, his advice shows how they can all help heal the world around them. In short he encourages them to love sincerely, show respect, be hopeful, be patient, persevere in prayer, help others, bless your persecutors, be compassionate, don't be condescending and don't be conceited, don't repay evil with evil and work to be at peace with everyone.

In a world where violence has become normalized, and individualism means that if it isn’t your suffering, then it isn’t your problem, we are challenged to hear the cries of the world personally and to open our hearts to them.

Joyce Rupp, in her book Boundless Compassion, tells the story of looking out the window on Sunday afternoon and seeing a young woman wearing an oversized, dirty black coat and baggy tan pants, a stocking cap on her head with black hair sticking out. She set down a plastic bag half filled with cans for deposit refund and began rooting through the dumpster, opening up and shaking out garbage bags. Then she took off her gloves, pulled newspapers out and started to leaf through the pages. Joyce realized she was looking for coupons. Remembering that some came in the mail a few days earlier, Joyce found them – free coffee, two sandwiches for the price of one – clipped them together alone with a twenty-dollar bill, and took them down.

Joyce walked outside and went over to her and asked as warmly as she could, “What brings you to this area?” She smiled in reply, “I’m staying with my uncle until I can get back on my feet again.” Joyce wondered about that but let it be and asked if she was looking for coupons. She seemed mildly surprised and Joyce held them out to her. Then she saw the money and her eyes filled with tears. She instinctively reached out to hug Joyce who saw the gesture coming at the exact same time she looked at the woman's garbage-smeared coat. In one brief second she pulled back, repulsed at the thought of getting that close to her. But in the next second she leaned in, not wanting to be offensive. As Joyce walked away, smelling somewhat of garbage, she thought of Jesus touching lepers and felt disappointed in herself at how quickly she could turn away from someone on the margins. Sure, it was a natural, protective instinct, but the lesson learned was that we have a choice about how we respond to anyone who is struggling. We can turn toward, or we can turn away. 

It’s hard to lean in, especially during these times when we're backing away from everyone. It’s something that I struggle with and sometimes have the energy for and sometimes I don’t. But I wonder: What would we change if we walked each day with the intent to heal the world?

Jane Goodall once said, “The most important thing we can do is remember that every single day one of us makes a difference. And we can all choose the kind of difference we’re going to make.”

Bryan Stevenson, Alabama trial lawyer for death-row inmates, relates a tender story of a grandmother whose broken heart transformed into a vessel of compassion. When Stevenson first encountered this older black woman in a courthouse hallway where he was working on the release of a prisoner, she gave him a kind smile and a warm hug. He was touched by that gesture and asked about her presence there. She told the lawyer, “I just come here to help people. This place is full of pain, so people need plenty of help around here.” As they continued the conversation, he learned about her sixteen-year-old grandson’s murder years earlier. She loved the boy and “grieved and grieved and grieved.” She also cried for the boys who were convicted of killing her grandson. At their sentencing, a stranger in the courtroom came over, gave her an immense hug, and sat with her for more than two hours. This experience generated the grieving grandmother’s compassion. A year later she began coming regularly to the courthouse to comfort those who had someone on trial and also those suffering from the crime that was committed. She concluded her story by saying: "I decided that I was supposed to be here to catch some of the stones people cast at each other.” 

Healing the world through the little things this is our task: hearing the cries of people and creation and responding, catching the stones that people throw, gathering the shards of light, spark by spark. Just one thing… perhaps we can just do one thing each day to make a difference to someone or something.

Love & Light!

Kaye