I was reading a book recently about two friends who often went camping together. The author was describing one time they were sitting around the campfire. He mentioned to his friend that this particular weekend was the 40th anniversary of their meeting for the first time. He then reached over into his backpack and took out a bottle of Southern Comfort he had stashed away, and handed it to his friend. As he wrote,
“Sensing the gravity of the moment, A.J. took the top of the bottle, and tossed it into the fire and the both of us proceeded to get a little sozzled. Some might look at this activity with displeasure. Yet, as long as you don’t get into a car and drive or head into town and start fights, the occasional peaceful Bender in the outdoors is relatively harmless. With the ice-cold mountain water and fresh air, even the hangovers aren’t that bad.
We’ve been talking to each other for those 40 years and know each other’s stories pretty well. We don’t necessarily share emotionally, but it is humbling to how much damage we complex human beings carry around with us each day.
I thought of that as I read these lines from today’s First Reading from the Book of Wisdom:
For you show your strength when people doubt the completeness of your power, and you rebuke any insolence among those who do know it.
Although you are sovereign in strength, you judge with mildness, and with great forbearance you govern us; for you have power to act whenever you choose. (Yet) through such works, you have taught your people that the righteous must be kind.
Joseph Rudyard Kipling was an English journalist, short-story writer, poet, and novelist. Kipling in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was among the United Kingdom’s most popular writers. He is seen as an innovator in the art of the short story. His children’s books, like The Jungle Book and the poem Gunga Din, are classics.
In 1919, Kipling penned the poem “If.” It seems to echo the words of the Book of Wisdom and certainly speaks to our times:
If you can keep your head when all those around you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, but don’t deal in lies,
Or be hated, but don’t give way to hating,
And don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can meet both Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up again with worn-out tools
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
Over the past few months, parishioners have shared what they are going through now. They have told me stories of what they experienced in their past. Much like the insight of John above, it is remarkable how resilient and courageous people can be. Considering what many have endured, the fact that they are not only surviving but thriving is a testimony to God’s grace. They are living the words from the Book of Wisdom and Kipling’s poem.
So why are we wearing masks, keeping 6 feet of distance between us? Certainly, there are medical reasons. As a community of faith, the reason is more sublime. It is found in that last line in the Book of Wisdom. We do it because of charity. God is kind to us. He knows the burdens that we carry. He is aware of the history of each person. He has compassion and is kind to his children. We must imitate Him. We must be kind to others as well.
In closing, let me close with another poem by J. Janda which seems to echo Kipling’s thoughts:
If you reverence and respect all life, if you can forgive and forget
if you wish peace to all—and to none harm
if you do not judge, criticize, or condemn
you have God’s heart beating in your body.