December 21, 2022
Cold days and long, dark nights have arrived at Pendle Hill. This season always stirs a strong desire for contemplation in me, and I find myself drawn to consider the dispossessed among us. All too often I am numb to their cries. Perhaps you, like me, find yourself turning down or tuning out their sorrows and strife or scrolling quickly past troubling images in the latest newsfeed – they sneak back into mind during a daily walk or errand, but perhaps we have not taken time to stop and look with openness and solidarity. Or perhaps you know what it is like to find yourself professing with words that which you have not acted upon as necessary to transform our reality. When I find myself dwelling in contemplations and (in)actions such as these, I bring myself back to the biblical concept of Emmanuel, which is typically translated as “God-with-us;” I, given my Quaker convictions, prefer “God-with(in)-us.”
“Emmanuel” appears in four places in the bible, mostly involving the prophecy of Isaiah, in which God promises a sign to prove God’s presence among the people of David, despite the peoples’ disbelief in God’s protection. In the present day, I think of Emmanuel as a force that is manifested within each of us and invites us to participate in the acts – large and small, prosaic and extraordinary – that contribute to the realization of a just world; a world where the promise of peace is possible, where we can recognize each other face to face as equals and work together to dismantle the deepest and most subtle structures of oppression at every level of our society, including faith community.
Embracing the God-with(in)-us in times of great multi-faceted societal challenge is an invitation to re-create hope; hope as an openness to the Spirit; hope as an expression of our commitment to faithfully walk the path of personal and communal discernment; hope as a process of transformation in which we become participants in God’s own dream.
The simple radicality of Emmanuel is a call to start walking with a God-who-always-is, abandoning the illusion of separateness. It is being en-route, in the messy close company of others, traversing the hardest and darkest roads while seeking out the signs of the sacred – liberatory truth, humility, care for oneself and others, the small gestures of love that restore our dignity as children of the divine. Here arises the God-who-always-is – a tiny light sprouts along the way and makes us jump for joy, reminding us that not all is lost, that in the midst of terror and misery, we must proclaim and realize the Beloved Community. It is that tiny light that gives us the strength to continue weaving that other possible world which lives in the very heart of creation.
May the joy and disconcerting provocation of God-with(in)-us encourage us all to continue opening paths of solidarity, compassion, and justice in this, our world, that cries out for liberation.