Since the beginning of Lent, I’ve been slowly reading Michael Casey’s book: Grace On the Journey to God. The title of his first chapter “The Grace of Discontinuity” caught me off guard. Being a person who likes order, I had never thought of discontinuity as a grace.
Then COVID-19 hit bringing more discontinuity than any of us could have imagined. When I was thinking about where to find hope in these times, I went back to Casey’s book. Casey would have us appreciate the role of discontinuity in our lives as the thing that moves us along the spiritual journey.
He notes that the call to discipleship is a type of discontinuity, a radical break with the past that shakes us out of our complacency and reorients our lives. He writes about the four ways monastics have traditionally understood that conversion takes place. An intense spiritual experience that may feel like being touched by God can set us on the path of following Christ. Meeting or reading about a holy person whose life awakens a similar desire in us can put us on the way of discipleship. Likewise, advice by a wise person in our life can touch something deep within us that sets us on the spiritual journey. The fourth way of conversion is not so glamorous.
“Finally, God can speak to us through disaster, when the order we have so rigorously imposed on our life is lost and we are left to pick up the pieces. Bereavement, loss of employment, family break-up, serious illness, accidents, even grave sins—these can in a single day destroy the lives we had, and precipitate us into irretrievable crisis …it is almost impossible for us to put the pieces back together in the same way they were, and so we have to create a new and, perhaps higher integration of the elements of our life.” (p 9).
That pretty well sums up what has happened to us across the world in the past five months. Casey says, “The possibility of these forces affecting us in a way that produces results largely depends on our vulnerability” (p. 9-10).
So vulnerability is the key to navigating this disaster!? That’s not my natural inclination. I am more inclined to “buck up” and “soldier on.” But some days lately, my “soldier” just can’t go on. Again and again, I have been brought to a place of thinking “this is all too much to handle.” One day when I was feeling that way, my spiritual director said to me “Would you be willing just to stay with that feeling?” Of course, that’s not what I want to do in the moment, but since it seems I have no choice, I stay with this vulnerability as best I can. After years of resisting my feelings and then beginning to let them be as they are, I have sometimes discovered that it is, in fact, safe to feel vulnerable. And not only safe, but the way forward may be revealed exactly in the place of vulnerability.
COVID-19 has shown us that we are all vulnerable to an invisible, unpredictable virus that even the scientists can’t quite understand yet. Both the virus and the killing of George Floyd have shown white Americans the injustice in the systems we have created. If we can allow ourselves to stay vulnerable to this new view of ourselves and the racist systems in which we are embedded long enough, perhaps we will discover God’s gracious Spirit present with us in our vulnerability and we will find the way forward. It is that Spirit who will show us the way to wake up from our complacency to change the unjust systems that oppress people of color in the United States. The paradox is that it is our vulnerability or what Benedict might call humility, rather than our domination, that will open the way forward.
When the police chief of Flint, Michigan laid down his weapons and walked with the protestors in his city, his was an act of vulnerability that opened the way to deepen his relationship with the protestors. Vulnerability is a powerful way to create bridges to others and bring about justice. That seems to be what Jesus showed us in his passion, death and resurrection.
We often say in community that people don’t change until they have to. Sometimes it takes a painful disruption that we can’t avoid to show us where change is needed. Perhaps that is the grace in this moment of great disruption.