We are not even a month into the new year and so much has happened. We came into 2021 collectively scarred/scared from 2020 and all that it held. We prayed for a calmer, more predictable new year. I don’t know about you but for me it has not been calmer. Instead, I’ve now experienced in this less than a month of 2021 every emotion ever created and maybe some new ones.
I told you in recent blogs that our household began the year with an unwelcome guest, Covid. After all those months of keeping it out, it just took up residence. My husband was pretty sick with every symptom except fever. I really cannot describe the fear, lack of control, isolation and worry we had during those first weeks of the year. I just tested positive for Covid antibodies, so we now believe Covid is what I gave him for Christmas.
Now that we are past that we are overcome with relief and gratitude that it was not worse and somehow we managed not to infect our youngest son who was home from college and living with us for almost two months. We are still masking, socially distancing and getting in line for a vaccine because so little is still known about how this spreads. Our anxiety for our own personal health decreased a notch, which is helpful.
Then, of course, during that time when we were sick and on lockdown, the events unfolded in Washington D.C. on January 6th. We shared with all Americans, the horror of that awful event and the residual, understandable fear that gripped us all during the days leading up to January 20th. I hope we all agree, no matter our politics, that that event and the terror it brought to our own country was a crossroads moment, a deal breaker, a wake up call. Long stoked hate, division and mistruths resulted in violence right before our eyes.
The events of this past week, in and around the inauguration of a new President, sent me into another wave of feelings. The Memorial Service for the 400,000 plus who have died from the virus took me by surprise with the intensity of the emotion I was holding onto. I’ve officiated many funerals in the past year for people who’ve died from Covid and other causes, whose families and friends had to attend by Zoom or Facebook with the few present having minimal contact. Gathering to grieve without being able to hug and comfort one another is excruciating. We have, as individuals and as a nation, been stuffing our grief.
I’m not trying to be political when I say what caught my heart’s attention this week was a flutter of hope. I had the feeling of a corner turned, a new day, a fresh way of relating to one another. It felt like something was breaking in order for something new to be born.
Nastiness and division paused for a while and bright fresh feelings and images emerged. The images of light on water, American flags waving against a bright blue sky, snow flurries and then sunshine. I was in awe of color: the varying shades of all kinds of skin, the purple for unity, aqua and teal, bright white as a nod to women’s right to vote and even Bernie’s brown and gray ended up making us all smile all week.
I stared in amazement at Lady Gaga’s outfit and giant dove of peace pin. I marveled at Garth’s simple blue jeans, black jacket and cowboy hat and reminded myself once again of how much more complicated it is to be a woman. (Men, you are not allowed to argue with this, it is a true fact.)
I wished for one second only that it would be cold enough in Texas so that we could wear cute colorful coats and gloves.
As I watched everyone descend and ascend staircase after staircase, especially the women in their high heels, I knew I could never be a politician. (I tend to fall on flat ground in flat shoes.)
I saw color, diversity, music, faith, prayer, old history and new history emerge. I saw the oldest traditions explode with change. Oh my. All the feelings.
And then, then, 22 year old poet Amanda Gorman stepped up with her beauty and the fiery red and brilliant yellow of her outfit. She preached. She absolutely 100% brought the Word. It was the best of writing, rhyming, oratory, choreography, history and art that somehow, someway put into magical, mystical words what so many of us have been feeling.
Her poem, The Hill We Climb, was the crowning sparkle on that brilliant day. I started to share with you my favorite lines. It ended up being every single word. Read it again. Soak it in. I will be soaking this in for days to come.
When day comes, we ask ourselves where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry, a sea we must wade.
We’ve braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace,
and the norms and notions of what “just” is isn’t always justice.
And yet, the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken,
but simply unfinished.
We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.
And yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine,
but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect.
We are striving to forge our union with purpose.
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters, and conditions of man.
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew.
That even as we hurt, we hoped.
That even as we tired, we tried.
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.
Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.
Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid.
If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made.
That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb, if only we dare.
It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit.
It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it.
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
This effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
it can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth, in this faith, we trust,
for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.
This is the era of just redemption.
We feared it at its inception.
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour,
but within it, we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.
So while once we asked, ‘How could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?’ now we assert, ‘How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?’
We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be:
A country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.
We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation.
Our blunders become their burdens.
But one thing is certain:
If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change, our children’s birthright.
So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left.
With every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.
We will rise from the golden hills of the west.
We will rise from the wind-swept north-east where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states.
We will rise from the sun-baked south.
We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.
In every known nook of our nation, in every corner called our country,
our people, diverse and beautiful, will emerge, battered and beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.
As much as I talk/write/preach/post about light, I cannot believe I didn’t think to write those last two simple and life changing lines. In an interview Amanda said she almost left out those last two lines but realized that was actually the essence of the whole thing, being brave enough to see the light and be the light. Well, yes.
In another interview, this one on Good Morning America, Amanda was surprised with a video clip of her hero Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame. He told her, the right words, in the right order can change the world. He also told her you smashed it. She glowed with joy when he said that.
One thing this past year has highlighted for me is the sheer number of people who live on this planet. When you hear of virus cases or deaths, you realize how many people there are living here. Through the election when votes were cast and recounted you realized how many people are in each state and county. When you hear about how many vaccinations are needed and the logistics of two vaccines per person, you realize the high numbers we are talking about.
When Amanda Gorman preached to us on Wednesday, all I could see was something new. She spoke of laying down arms and opening up our arms. She talked about bridges instead of blades. She talked of a force that nearly shattered our nation. She inspired me.
What if we focused on a new kind of shattering instead of the explosion of a sickness or terror or hate? What if there could be an explosion, a contagion, a shattering of kindness and light?
I know we do not agree on politics. Maybe you felt an entire range of different feelings than I did in the past weeks and past years. I think our differences are okay.
Surely though, we can agree on hope, color, music, art, humanity and the dire need we all have for love, inclusion and kindness to win in our lives.
The numbers are on our side. There are so many of us. If each one of us softened a little, hoped a little, loved a little, a good smashing, a great shattering would occur.
What would happen if even a fraction of us from today forward were brave enough to see the light; brave enough to be the light?
What if we only added a single item to our daily to-do list: be kind, be light in some specific way? What if we offered a word, like Amanda did, that sent hearts soaring, imagining instead of sinking/stifling/hating? What our contribution to light was a song like Garth or Lady Gaga or JLo offered? What if we wore brilliant colors as a sign of something good? What if we unclenched our fists and stretched out our hands? What if we allowed ourselves and others to grieve and tell our stories? What if our hearts opened toward each other instead of hardening?
If just the people who read this blog would do one colorful, hopeful act of kindness a day, love would shatter all the rest. We would all be changed.
January 2021 among all your feelings, I saw your bright and brilliant flutter of hope, color and light. May it change us. May it go viral. May it smash and shatter us into seeing and being light. Amen.
Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, wife, mother of three, breast cancer survivor, Mosa to Keller, Pace and River. Go to http://www.drcindyryanblog.com for more of her writings, upcoming events and information about the weekly Jesus Calling Prayer Call she hosts live on Tuesday mornings at 7 CST). You can also sign up there for Cindy’s Inner Circle and receive a monthly Top Ten list. Sign up by January 31st to receive February’s Top Ten: How to be More Like Jesus.