The Light We Carry, the Good We Are – The Rev. Michelle Meech
May 14, 2023
I was asked to drive to a congregation near Connecticut yesterday and facilitate a meeting. And on long drives, I’ve taken to listening to audio books if I’m by myself. I had just finished one on a previous trip so, before I left home, I took a quick look through the downloads in my app and found, to my delight, that Michelle Obama’s latest book had somehow found its way to my queue. So I hit play.
Michelle’s new book is called The Light We Carry. In it, she talks about what she discovered about living in times of uncertainty – when the world seems to be too much with us and we feel like we should be doing more, but then realize we cannot, and how we sometimes feel shame because we cannot. Of course, she is talking about her own depressive episode that occurred over the last few years – during the administration of the last president and the pandemic – and her journey back to balance.
She started with this poem by Alberto Rios, entitled “A House Called Tomorrow”
You are not fifteen, or twelve, or seventeen—
You are a hundred wild centuries…
Everyone who has come before you,
All the yous that you have been,
The mothers of your mother,
The fathers of your father.
If someone in your family tree was trouble,
A hundred were not:
The bad do not win—not finally,
No matter how loud they are.
We simply would not be here
If that were so.
You are made, fundamentally, from the good.
With this knowledge, you never march alone.
You are the breaking news of the century.
You are the good who has come forward
Through it all, even if so many days
Michelle’s book is about this part of us that sometimes gets lost. This part of us that sometimes gets dimmed or set aside or left behind. And this usually happens in periods of stress. If we grow up in a stressful situation, we may grow up never experiencing a sense of balance at all. But this part of is that gets left behind is the light we carry. And through Rios’ poem, Michelle is telling us how this part is intrinsically good. Rios says: “you are the good that has come forward because the bad do not win, not finally.”
And I know that’s a difficult notion to really take in – that we are the good that has come forward. To consider the generational procession of our DNA through our family systems and dynamics over the course of time as a precursor to who we are – you and me – and to realize that who we are is inherently good. I think it’s honestly one of the hardest truths for us to fully absorb.
Let’s look at this passage from the Acts of the Apostles, for example.
We have Paul talking to the people of Athens, noting just how religious they are. Remember that, even though Romans are in control, Paul is traveling through what has been for centuries and centuries, Greek society. And, Athens, in particular, was a place of great reverence when it came to the Greek gods. The Parthenon is there, Athena’s main temple, and the Acropolis, a complex that housed temples and theatres dedicated to many different gods. And these are just the most notable sites.
Paul is, of course, not suggesting that “religious” means that they are righteous. He merely means that they are observant of their own practices. As a matter of fact, right before this passage, Luke (the author of Acts) tells us that Paul was “deeply distressed to see that the city [of Athens] was full of idols.” So much so that he would spend his days arguing about the nature of God in the marketplace with any devout person of any religion, Jewish people, Greek philosophers. And Luke goes on to say, they were confused by Paul, not quite understanding what he was trying to tell them about this God he worshipped. But they wanted to hear more.
And that’s when Paul delivers this speech. That’s when Paul tries to help them understand that in all of their idols, regardless of their worldly value, whether they are made of gold or silver or stone… That all of their idols, all of their so-called gods in Athens, all come from the imaginations of mortals. That all of this, is nothing but human effort and that this effort is in vain.
Because God, the true God, the creator of the world and everything in it, the creator of all humanity, the God of all nations… God does not live in shrines made by human hands. God does not need to be fed through sacrifices. God does not need to be searched for or coaxed. Paul says that all of this is nothing more than human striving.
As a matter of fact, these are the ways in which God remains unknown. The further afield we go, the further away we get. God is much closer to us than we can possibly imagine, Paul says. It is in God that we live and move and have our being. We are God’s offspring.
Rios’ words echo in Paul’s:
You are made, fundamentally, from the good. You are the good that has come forward.
And we’re back to this hard to believe thing about ourselves. That we are fundamentally good. That we are God’s beloved children.
It’s easy to understand why this is hard to believe. We get out of balance, like Michelle is saying in her book. In extended periods of stress, we can easily find ourselves out of balance and when that happens, we start needing the world to show up in a certain way for us. And it’s just a short step from there to create God in our own image.
God becomes a mirror of our own fears and desires born of our need for the world to be the way we need it to be. And we create idols. Idols such as:
God is the one who punishes sin through injury and disease. God is the one who rewards the righteous with wealth.
God is the one who will not disappoint me. God is the one who doesn’t want me to feel uncomfortable.
When we’re in this place of creating idols, God remains unknown to us. And our light, the part of God that we carry with us, remains unseen to us.
But stress and imbalance are a part of life. They are intrinsic aspects of the human experience. That’s because stress is a condition that creates growth and development which means that without stress, without discomfort, we do not mature. We do not learn. We do not develop.
It is in knowing God that we come to find our balance, even in the midst of the stress in our lives. And this is not a searching, not a striving. This is a resting. A deep, deep resting in the truth. We are good. We are holy. We are loved.
We come to this resting through the practice Jesus taught us: The practice of self-emptying.
We practice releasing whatever it is we are carrying as our need to be enough – good enough, smart enough, powerful enough, wealthy enough, pretty enough, talented enough, right enough, pleasant enough, respected enough, pleasing enough, special enough…
We release all of these ideas and notions and expectations and fears that we are carrying and allow them to die with Christ. Allowing a part of us to die so that we – this light we carry, this offspring of God who truly knows God, may be resurrected with Christ. We let go of our need to be good enough and become the good that we already are.
This is how God becomes known to us – claiming our goodness, the truth of who we are, and actively participating in the reconciliation of the world.
Jesus tells us, earlier in John’s Gospel – in last week’s reading, as a matter of fact – “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” Jesus is telling us from 2000 years ago, that he believes in our goodness. In the goodness of you. In the goodness of me.
And while this is the truth, this is not where our hope lies. Our hope lies in a truth even more profound than that.
Our hope lies in God’s wild, extravagant love for us.
This love that comes to us in the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, that will always be with us. God’s Holy Spirit that breathes through us, inspiring us, bringing us back to the ground of our being over and over again. Helping us to find our balance in the changes and chances of life.
And this love comes to us through Jesus the Christ who may not be seen through worldly eyes as anything more than the immigrant, or the poor, or the inconvenient one, but who is revealed through the life-giving, self-emptying practices of love of God and love of neighbor. Jesus will always be revealed to us as we seek and serve Christ in the faces of all whom we meet, especially in those who challenge us the most.
And this love comes in the sure knowledge that we are made in the very image of God – this life-giving, loving, liberating God who is Love, in whom we live and move and have our being.
God is with us. Love is our home.
May we shine forth this light we carry for ourselves and for one another.