Scripture: Jeremiah 8:18-9:1
My joy is gone, grief is upon me,
   my heart is sick. …
Hark, the cry of my poor people
   from far and wide in the land. …
Is there no balm in Gilead? …
O that my head were a spring of water,
   and my eyes a fountain of tears,
so that I might weep day and night
   for the slain of my poor people!

Last week I attended a gathering with 300 spiritual directors of many different faiths. Before and after the presentations we spent time in silence and prayer. While there, we learned of the shootings at the mosques in New Zealand and the deaths of 50 of our spiritual siblings. Our contemplation and our conversation included words of grief, compassion and encouragement. Prayer and action, piety and justice are inseparable dimensions of our relationship with God and neighbor. I was reminded of what St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.”

I’ve been pondering a paradox of our faith: God creates us to be at peace with God and one another, and also imbues us with longing, dissatisfaction, and restlessness. In some moments I sense a small portion of peace, of being at home with God. But just when I think maybe I am close to the promised “rest,” I see others who are denied the opportunities I have enjoyed – people of color, people of different gender, orientation, ableness, economic class or educational privilege. God reminds me this business of finding “rest” is not an individual or solitary matter. There is no rest, no salvation, for any of us until there is justice for us all. There is no “us” and “them.” There is only “us.”

Just as I was retiring from pastoral ministry a few years ago, I was asked to take leadership in the effort to end the death penalty in Nebraska. The Legislature had repealed capital punishment, but the Governor was funding a petition campaign for a referendum to reinstate it. I was plunged into two very different kinds of activity. I had never been involved in an election campaign, but now I was working side-by-side with strategists, pollsters, organizers and fundraisers. Nor had I ever met anyone convicted of murder, or anyone whose loved one had been murdered. Now I was visiting with victims’ family members and talking with men on Death Row.

I certainly didn’t expect that “retirement” would involve sitting down in my rocking chair and vegging out, but I did assume I would get to rest a bit. Instead, God created new dimensions of restlessness to stir me into renewed action. We lost that election and Nebraska once again is a death penalty state, but the struggle continues. I find myself continuing to work with legislators, organizations and people of faith to shape public policy in ways that move our society toward justice. God keeps luring me to act in ways and for causes I would not have imagined I could.

Prayer: O Holy One, give us tears, give us rage; and give us wisdom and clarity to use our anger and our tears in the service of your peace and your justice.

Rev. Stephen Griffith is a retired member of the Great Plains Conference. He served churches across Nebraska for 35 years, including extended pastorates in Omaha and Lincoln. Steve is a trained spiritual director and mediator and has a long history of advocacy. His involvements include LGBTQ equality, Planned Parenthood, ending the death penalty, advocating for immigrants, fostering interfaith understanding. In MFSA he serves as convener of the Great Plains Chapter, and the South Central Jurisdiction Representative on the Board of Directors.
 

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