“There isn’t a crisis atmosphere in Washington.” Ezra Klein in “WonkTalk: Will America even notice the sequester?” The Washington Post on Feb. 26, 2013
It is a rainy, windy night in late February and my heart is heavy. In fact, my heart has been heavy for several days. That mood was not improved by watching a video clip tonight on the Washington Post’s website, with the above quote and subsequent comments by a Washington Post (self-confessed) wonk. Well, Mr. Klein, perhaps there isn’t a crisis atmosphere where you live and work. Perhaps there isn’t a crisis atmosphere on Capitol Hill (hard to believe, given Capitol Hill’s love of adrenaline brought on by every cliff-hanging crisis). However, the atmosphere is different in some real people’s homes right now.
I am rector of an Episcopal parish in Laurel, MD. Many of the folks whose faces I see on Sunday mornings—faithful Christians who find a pew, kneel, pray, sing, and enjoy conversations at coffee hour—many of these real people are worried right now. Yes, Mr. Klein, they are worried about the Sequester. I know their names, I hug and tease their children and teenagers, I listen to their stories. Not all their stories, of course. But a parish priest hears many stories (some I wish I did not have to hear, but that’s the burden of a listening heart.)
My parishioners work in a variety of jobs and careers in the D.C. area. Most are well-educated and I venture to say that at least in some fields, they far outrank me in intelligence. I do not know the details about some of their occupations (and don’t need to). But what I do know is that many of them are now genuinely concerned, even scared. They work for the federal government and if the Sequester goes through, they stand to lose 20% of their income. One day a week, one or both adults in the household will have to stay home, unpaid. If you are self-employed, or you work in the private sector, you may not understand this fear. Yet perhaps you can, on your own level.
The last time I checked out prices for eggs, butter, peanut butter and milk, I picked up a carton of eggs, was thankful I had a coupon for butter, and shook my head as I wondered how in the world people with families are making it right now. Then I filled my gas tank—always doing that on Thursday, when you get five cents a gallon “off” the regular price—and if you’re lucky, you’ve spent enough money on eggs, butter and milk at the grocery store to “save” an extra ten or twenty or thirty cents.
So it’s a tough economic climate right now, and whether you work for the government, for someone else, or for yourself, you know that. Now, on top of all this, we now have a Sequester looming, and no one seems to be very clear about its real future implications.
I find myself thinking about the biblical story about Jesus asleep in the boat on the Sea of Galilee. He and his disciples are crossing from one side to the other; he lies down and goes to sleep. A fierce, sudden storm comes up and before long, the disciples are scared to death. They awaken Jesus, who chides them for their fear. Then he calms the storm.
Jesus never seems to live in fear. He lives in the center of himself, a place that is deep, quiet, sure. He seems clear who he is, and to Whom he is connected. No fear. He just is. He is totally present. When he sleeps—even in a storm—he sleeps. When he goes to a dinner party, he seems to get totally involved with the wine-drinking and bread-breaking—in fact, he can even make some good wine out of clear water to add to the merriment! When he has conversations with everyday folks, he listens—really listens. He says, more than once, “Do not fear.” Jesus reminds us that God knows when the sparrow falls, God has named everything, God clothes the beautiful lilies of the field. If we live our lives in the center, where Jesus does, perhaps we will not fear. Do not worry about tomorrow. Today’s worries are enough. Well, yes, there is that.
Yet I am left with a heavy heart. People I care about are worried about what may happen. Perhaps it won’t. Perhaps it is another Capitol Hill tempest in the proverbial teapot. Yet my vocation as a priest and pastor calls me to be with my people in their sorrows, fears, concerns, joys, in their conversations about God and where their lives of faith connect with their daily lives. Where is God on the Metro? Where is God in the research lab or at their computers? Where is God in their struggles with elderly parents or teenagers, or in their courageous battles against cancer? Where is God in a dark night of the soul? Where is God in the middle of a rainy, windy night when you wonder if your struggle to make ends meet is about to get even more difficult?
I don’t always know where God is in any of these situations. Sometimes God is maddeningly silent. Sometimes God seems to be hiding way too well to be found. Yet I believe—I give my heart to—in the love of God. I fiercely hold onto the hope that the boat we are all in will weather the storm. I am not Jesus. I do not have the power to speak to the storm and make the waters calm in a moment. But I can hold on with them. I can stay in the boat with the others and try to comfort them. It seems so small a gesture. Yet I will trust that God is in this too.
© The Rev. Sheila N. McJilton