This past Sunday, in church, I heard the sermon I needed to hear. I had been reeling from world events, not knowing where to turn, how to think, how even to talk about what is going on. But also not wanting to shut it all out and retreat into my lovely comfortable life. The minister talked first about the sermon he WAS going to deliver, but decided not to. Revisiting the first Thanksgiving, with its nod to our church’s history (from Calvinists to Puritans, fleeing religious persecution, arriving as immigrants and refugees being welcomed by indigenous peoples) he reminded us of the ironic parallel to the Syrian refugee crisis and our lawmakers’ response to it.
But then he asked us not to turn away from the world, but to stay engaged with it from a position of gratitude. Waking in the morning glad to simply be alive. Focusing on the miracle of our bodies, that our hearts are pumping blood to the rest of our system, that our limbs, creaky and stiff as they may be, support us and allow us to stand, work, give, embrace. And he went on describing the little things we might tend to complain about, inviting us to think about them differently. The one that really got me was the car: rather than complaining about mechanical failure and increasing traffic (I have become quite cranky on this point), he asked us to be grateful that our world extends beyond the limits of where we can walk. I am. My world is huge. I have friends and colleagues all over the globe, and the opportunity to experience their realities through travel. It also means I feel the pain of the world, and I am called to listen, to hear, to think deeply about issues, educate myself, and understand as best as I can.
I was challenged last week by two stories that have stayed with me. One was an NPR Radiolab piece about thinking, especially how we think about thinking and its relationship to language. As a self-described “language person,” I was fascinated by some of the questions posed, such as “is there thinking without verbal language?” and “is music a language in the same way words are?” The other story was called The Withing Project, expressed through a theater piece combining song, dance, and spoken word to examine changes in brain activity created by connection with another person who isn’t in the same room. The combination of actual neuroscience experiments with music and movement, the blurring of the edges between science and art, was thought-provoking in a variety of ways.
Today, as a worldwide travel alert is issued by the US State Department, I can’t help but think of our broken world and the changes in our hearts and minds we need in order to heal. I don’t believe the answer is to shut our borders and stay home. I am inspired by some of the responses I see by young people around the world, and I am committed to educating myself to remove blinders. One of my current teachers is Ta-Nehisi Coates, as I read his book Between the World and Me. Challenging my assumptions, perspective, experience and conclusions in so many ways. As an educator, I am grateful for the ability and the desire to learn from and with others in whatever way they show up: as minister, refugee, terrorist, politician, radio host, scientist, dancer, author. I give thanks for all of it.