Ian ravaged Florida and the South, and now its gray remnants have chilled October’s start in New England. Everywhere, human fragility is on full view: the rescued and the homeless after the storm, gun violence bleeding into shopping centers and the aftermath of football games, assaults on city streets and the omnipresence of physiological trauma. Fragility characterizes human nature and life; what is today may not exist tomorrow. Traversing time without an inkling of that Fragility is hardly possible. In facing that, we meet both Fear and Faith. The first may be crippling and the second somehow comforting. Both come alive in multiple iterations in each life and both rest at the heart of human fragility. Fragility, Fear and Faith are somehow inextricably intertwined.
Paul’s second letter to Timothy offers a passage that speaks to that powerful combination: “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.” In the midst of the suffering that inevitably appears, of the failures of relationships, programs, projects and plans, there is the promise that love still exists and that God somehow is present and is offering that strenghtening of Fragility. But the truth is, positing that conviction that God exists and is present in each of us, God’s grace needs the vehicle of humanity to become visible. It is the kind word, the patient resonse, the poverty of waiting and the firmness of action that enables Fragility to slip from the tentacles of Fear to the profundity of Faith. And while a bit of Fear may be healthy and harbor resilience, when Fear conquers Fragility, Faith can slip into the black hole of unknown. Making Faith visible, responsive to Fragility and Fear, belongs to each of us in the tenor of our days and the tightness of our time, in the never-to-be-repeated interactions and in short and long-term connections and interactions. It is about simply being who we are and realizing that is all any of us can be. The Gospel underlines that message today in its steady and simple assertion that humans have responsibilities to one another.
And so it is that there are, even in the midst of calamities, the green shoots of new life peeking from the perilous rubble. Fragility may arouse fear but draws forth Faith as well in those tiny green shoots. The dazzling gift of hope and grace may come in tiny bits of conversation at discount gas pumps over lost family members, in classrooms with high school kids confiding identity, in kitchens and dining room discussions about what’s happening in the world. There is the Cajun Navy coming to the rescue and the volunteer firefighters who keep showing up and the medical teams that leap into action with emergencies. There are the quiet ones who kneel in pews to whisper of the world’s cares and do so with the full acknowledgement of their own fragility. There are the observant ones who silently and simply offer a hand to the overwhelmed and underserved. Each one offers a flicker of the light of Grace in a cold, unwelcoming space. Each is open to fragility in others, in self, in humanity.