A Reflection on Life and Power

A reflection on life and power

Stuart Higginbotham

My friends, I hesitate to say “I hope this finds you doing well,” because it feels like no one is fully “doing well” these days. We are all, at least, uncomfortable, shaken up, disturbed. So, I will say that I hope this finds you breathing and staying close to your practice of prayer, which I think is the most important thing we can do in uncertain times such as this. And maybe such deep breathing is “doing well” after all.

I think back over the past two years and such and all the upheaval that we have experienced, all the challenges and even trauma. And I remember all the moments of compassion, of seeing the community come together to support one another. There has been pain and there has been joy. There has been grieving and there has been celebration. There has been life. Even when so much around us feels like it is pressing in, there has been a depth to life that I am paying attention to. 

Given all this, I keep going back–or being brought back–to reflect on how we make meaning in our lives, how we find meaning in these uncertain days. I want so badly for things to calm down, for things to settle, to have some degree of “normalcy,” but that is a space that continues to evade us. I think we are in a season of reorientation, a time of massive readjustment and realignment. 

The role or purpose of religion, at its most primal and authentic core, is to cultivate a space to find meaning within our lives. Our practices reconnect us with our deepest selves and with God’s presence (which are in union and cannot be separated), hence the root of the word religion being re-ligio, the same word we hear in ligament. Religion is about finding and nurturing connection on the level of our souls. This is why religion, per se, is always in tension with the expectations of the culture and can never just be a rubber stamp of what the culture values. Religion is in relationship with culture, is embedded in it so to speak, but this pull to make meaning and go deeper demands that we be conscious, and that will put us in tension with the culture that wants us to be numb on one hand and keep the status quo.

Looking at recent events, we see the challenges we face. There is much that we can all say around the Supreme Court’s recent ruling to reverse Roe vs. Wade, and I want to make sure to ground myself in a conversation that honors this deep reflection. Each and every one of us has complex feelings about this, to be sure. Some are angry. Some are grieving. Some are relieved. Some don’t know how they feel, or they feel four or five things at one time. 

The broader Episcopal Church has affirmed the importance of protecting choice (since 1967) while resisting any basis of such a choice on mere convenience. We have always linked the reality of medical concerns and abuse with the reality of grieving and even the need for penance for those who have faced these difficult decisions. I believe our stance, so to speak, is one that is humble, honest, and realistic. Our discernment around abortion resisted the culture’s “free love” mentality while affirming the complexity and sometimes tragic circumstances of human life. It also affirms God’s presence, a point that cannot be underemphasized. 

I am very aware that, as a man, I don’t know what this shift feels like for women. And I know that, as a father, I have a different perspective than someone who has not seen their own child’s heartbeat on an ultrasound. I know that as a human I struggle with these deeper questions, and I know that as a priest I am called to somehow stand in the middle of all of this, ground myself, and call this community to focus on God’s presence within us all. This is the primal role of a priest as someone who stands in the middle and orients or reminds. 

These are not easy days, but it has fallen to us to engage them as the church, as a community whose primary focus is to reconcile and reconnect ourselves to one another and to God, through an awareness of how we share in the life of Christ. 

I was telling someone earlier this week that, if nothing else, we are being challenged to ask very deep and hard questions. And we haven’t always used those muscles as the church. The challenge is to avoid being caught up in the distractions and manipulation long enough that we can sit with our own souls and reflect deeply on how we understand life. The questions before us now are ones that people have wrestled with for millenia, to be honest: How do we understand life? Where do we come from? Where do we “go?” What is the meaning of our life? What are we? What is the beginning? What is the end? What is the beginning after the end?

And, if I can be bold, let me say that there are other deeper questions that are presenting themselves as well. What is the relationship between men and women when it comes to life and sharing in the co-creation of life? What do we understand “being a man” to mean? What do we understand “being a woman” to mean?  How do we understand power when it comes to the mystery of life? The issue or struggle around power is essential here, and I think we need to find a way to discuss this: How do we understand the power we have as men and women when it comes to participating in life? Who has power? Who wants power? Who is afraid of power? Because when we dare to talk about this deeper reality of power, we can feel in our own bodies how our current struggles are directly connected with these primal questions around where life comes from and how we share in and are called to care for it. When we dare to engage around these questions of power and life, we are engaging on the deepest levels of ourselves and how we understand the Divine. These questions are that powerful, and it is that important.

We have wrestled with these questions since we first gathered around fires and imagined our place in the universe, and I think we should recognize just how deep that these questions go. This is why, in an earlier sermon, I argued for putting everything on the table, so to speak. If we’re going to truly talk about life, if we mean what we say, then we better be prepared to talk about all of life and not just focus on one aspect that has become a political leverage point. Let’s not be cynical, let’s be courageous.

Let me close at this point by saying this: I have never understood myself as an “activist” in my vocation, but maybe our understanding of this term has been too narrow. Or maybe the times are calling for an even more deeply engaged embodiment. Maybe being an activist at this point can mean sitting still long enough to engage with this hard and deep soul work that we are called to do. I think so. I believe that we can engage in this deeper current of work together, that we can open our hearts and be vulnerable with one another and ask the questions that really matter: What does it mean to live? How do I understand life and my call to co-create in it? How do I understand power and my call to share in it? 

I truly believe that these questions can carry us into a deeper space of the soul where reconciliation and healing can take place. But make no mistake about it, this is going to be hard work. So, let’s get going.

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