Do you remember the first time in your life when you were aware of feeling scared?
My first memory of feeling scared is from my childhood in the Philippines, visiting relatives. Auntie Ems rented living quarters in the back of her property to various boarders, one of whom had a child with whom I sometimes played. We were running around one day when my playmate decided it would be funny to lock me inside their small, two-room home and not tell anyone. I remember hearing the door lock and looking outside the window just in time to see her running away, laughing, with her house key in hand and no one else in the house. I couldn’t figure out a way to get out. I began to panic. I felt so scared, so alone, and I didn’t think anyone would ever figure out how or where to find me. (Eventually another boarder saw me banging on the window and ran to get my aunt, to let me out. I told Auntie Ems I didn’t want to play with that particular playmate anymore!)
Last night in the Parish Hall, 75 folks from a variety of denominations and faiths heard a man from another country tell his own story of being scared: a story not from his childhood but from the present day. He recently left his homeland, fearing and fleeing for his life; as a journalist and radio personality in his country, he had dared to speak bold truth to corrupt power. He hoped to feel a sense of safety and sanctuary here in America. He hoped to feel a sense of security. He hoped to feel hopeful, for life and for living. As he spoke last night, it was clear that today, here in America in our own city of Baltimore, he feels none of these things.
What he does feel is scared.
Today as followers of Christ we celebrate our Lord’s ascension, an oft-neglected feast of the church. But as one contemporary biblical scholar reflects:
… it’s worth retaining and remembering, because Ascension Day reminds us that we cannot limit God. For while God came to us in the flesh in the person of Jesus, Jesus’ ascension reminds us that we can’t restrict God to any one place. Jesus’ ascension, then, isn’t about his leaving – his disciples, us, the world – but rather is about the simultaneous confession that 1) God has chosen to be located in our physical world so that God may be accessible to us, and 2) God refuses to be limited even to those important places.
No building, no people, no book, no religion, even, can limit God’s ability to be accessible to others.
Who are we to say God resides “here” but not “there”? Who are we to proclaim salvation to some – some people, some religion, some faith – and not to all? And if we are all truly God’s children – kin to one another, bound by our common humanity, made of flesh and spirit, each of of us capable of feeling fear, anger, sadness and joy – are we not bound to treat one another as we ourselves would want to be treated in similar circumstances? To free a scared child, locked inside a building without her consent? To give hope and to provide a sense of safety and security to a fellow human being, fearing and fleeing for his very life?
All things are born of you, O God.
We carry within us your light and your life.
In the mystery of matter
and deep in the cells of our souls
are your longings for oneness.
The oneness of the universe
vast and vibrating with the sound of its beginning.
The oneness of the earth
greening and teeming as a single body.
The oneness of the human soul
a sacred countenance in infinite form.
Grant us your longings for oneness, O God,
amidst life’s glorious multiplicities.
~John Philip Newell
Grant us your longings, O God, and grant us the courage, the will, to act.