Have any of you seen a whale up close — or not up close, but even at all in real life?
I haven’t, but I imagine it’s the sort of feeling you get when you’re standing in front of a mountain, or a waterfall, or the ocean, or even a huge building. Of course none of those are living things, the way that a big fish is, but there’s a strange sense of peace, seeing something that’s so much larger than yourself. I always feel small, in a comforting way, because it reminds me that everything isn’t up to me, that I can’t really do very much on my own, I’m just too little by myself.
There’s another angle to this feeling, too, whether witnessing a geographic marvel, like a mountain or a waterfall or a big body of water, or a big old building, like a cathedral or a basilica in Europe, Asia, or South America, something really, really old. Those kinds of things make me remember that my life is small and short compared to the age of the world and history of humanity. Mountains stood and water carved canyons thousands of years before people even saw them, temples were erected and churches built over the span of many lifetimes, and hundreds of years before I was a twinkle in my daddy’s eye.
I remember a moment in the basement of one of these worship spaces, I was in France, by the ocean, wandering around a monastery that had been built in stages, even the newest stage being several hundred years old, much older, of course, than our country itself. So I was there in the oldest part of this compound, in a little chapel that had maybe one small window up near the ceiling; it was mostly dark, and I sat down near the back edge of the room, and as I tried to be quiet, it struck me: “People have prayed here for a thousand years.”
How many people was that? How many prayers had been whispered inside those walls? How many hands had been lifted to God for deliverance from those very stones? How many lives were contained in the air? How many souls had been transformed by God’s presence in that very place?
I felt the weight of my ego melt away. It’s not that the place made me feel like I was insignificant, but it reminded me that the burden of success is not on my back. The outcome of the world doesn’t depend on our efforts, not even on the efforts of all of us in this room, or of all the social justice activists in our country, or even all the impressive, successful, influential people throughout all of time.
If you are feeling road-weary, and your efforts are feeling stretched, and your energy is used up, I have good news for you.
It’s not up to you. It’s not up to me. It’s not even up to all of us together. Continue reading