On Sunday at Virginia-Highland Church we will deal with hell and water communion. In one sense, they seem like competing themes and images, but I keep returning, again and again, to the droughts and fires raging on the West Coast and the profound need for healing rain.
There are so many beautiful songs beseeching God to allow grace and love to pour down like rain upon the parched earth of our souls and cool our fevered brows. Those images fill my prayers for the people in the West, as well as my prayers for the people I pass every day who seem isolated, afraid, and lost without purpose and meaning.
I was talking this week to our associate pastor Rev. Kathy Burton about some folks who are behaving in very hurtful ways. We talked about the deep pain they must be in that fuels their behavior. In last week’s Epistle lesson, Paul tried to remind us that our struggles are “not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers.” It helps me to remember that it isn’t an individual behaving badly; rather, the person is acting out of their own brokenness, their own personal hells.
Some years ago, I was attacked by a woman who seemed determined to destroy me. She made a list of accusations and then said publically that she had no idea if any of them were true. She asserted that it was up to the investigation to determine that. Of course, she knew the accusations alone would do great harm. It was so tempting to get angry and to hate her, and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t at times. What kept me from giving into that, however, was knowing her family history. While she appeared to be the epitome of the successful professional, she came from a deeply wounded and abusive family, most of whom were in prison. She was living out of their pattern of evil principalities and powers. It wasn’t personal, unless I took it personally.
No one can make your life hell without your permission. When they try, the key is to remember that they are acting from their own personal hell. The best thing you can do is feel sympathy for them and pray for them. I think that is what Jesus meant by turning the other cheek. Refuse to let their evil determine the kind of person YOU are. Just be grateful you don’t have to live with the hell that is causing them so much pain that it causes them to act the way they are.
Rev. Michael Piazza