Updated: May 15
All Will Be Well But It Won’t Be OK: Spiritual Resilience for the End of an Age
First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville
May 22, 2022
Peace be with you.
I want to start by acknowledging that we are meeting on land that the United States Government has named Nashville Tennessee, but is also the ancestral homeland of the Yuchi, Shawnee, and Cherokee peoples prior to the arrival of European settlers.
It’s a great pleasure to be with you all today. As some of you know, my name is Josh Richardson, I use he/him/his pronouns, and I’m speaking on behalf of my nonprofit Brugmansia Ministries, which is an interfaith organization that helps faith communities prepare for climate change and climate-induced migration through resilience building.
To try and have a genuine interfaith conversation and to be my whole self, I’m going to be approaching today’s meditation from my Christian background.
Each night before we put our child to bed, my partner or I sing a hymn to them while we lay them down in the crib. We sing: “All Will Be Well, All Will Be Well, All Manner of Things Will Be Well.” As some of you are probably familiar, these words are the words imparted by Jesus to the great mystic Julian of Norwich in one of her visions, as she lived through the Bubonic Plague in Europe.
In hearing these words, I am always keenly aware of the profound acknowledgement that the world we inhabit is not well on personal, organizational, political, and global scales.
We are collectively living through interconnected and expansive levels of suffering and trauma. We are still in the midst of a pandemic which has taken the lives of over 6 million people across the world, not to mention the millions more who are permanently disabled. Laws are being passed and adopted that challenge the humanity of our trans siblings. We are witnessing the highest levels of inflation in the cost of food since 1979 with 10% of the households in the United States unable to consistently provide enough food to feed everyone, while corporations are posting record profits. Housing prices are soaring because Wall Street Banks are purchasing roughly 1/5th of all houses, driving gentrification and the cultural erasure of lower income neighborhoods. We are averaging more than 1 mass shooting per day this year in the United States. In response to droughts and heatwaves in the Western United States municipalities are rationing water to indigenous communities while continuing to supply water to golf courses. Climate change is changing foundational weather patterns, where we are now facing the very real possibility for catastrophic and cascading ecosystem collapse leading to the deaths of trillions of living organisms, including humans, on scales we have never witnessed as a species.
I wonder, what does it mean to say “All Will Be Well, All Will Be Well, All Manner of Things Will be Well” amidst such strange suffering?
Please pray with me
Our reading today could be interpreted many ways. Today, I’m going to present a trauma-informed reading of this text, instead of a more conventional interpretation.
So, our story begins in a place of immense systemic violence, trauma, and fear. Jesus’ followers are locked away in a fearing for their lives. While not in the text, it’s likely that Judean leaders would have been afraid of violence from Rome if Jesus’ disciples became disruptive. And, honestly, the Roman officials would have been afraid of violence from Ceasar. And Ceasar would have been afraid of violence from someone trying to usurp power. The entire society and fabric of existence is bound together by fear and violence.
Within the reading, there are four major movements that occur to take a community from a place of fear and trauma to a place of action.
First, there is an initial calming and greeting.
Prior to Jesus’ arrival, Jesus’ followers are acting and processing the world from a place of fear. As a brief aside, physiologically, when humans are afraid or traumatized, the amygdala in our brains shuts down our cerebral cortex, limiting our ability to concentrate, process new information, and to make rational decisions. So, not only are Jesus’ followers afraid, but they are not fully able to reason, process, and make decisions to the fullness of their being. They are limited and bound by their fear and trauma.
And it is in that moment of fear that Jesus miraculously appears and says “peace be with you”. The statement “peace be with you” is a customary greeting, but biblical scholars like Raymond Brown have argued that in this case Jesus was imparting a sense of wellness and peace to his followers, instead of simply greeting them. This wasn’t a greeting as much as a reassuring command. It’s like taking a deep breath and centering oneself to exit a state of fear and panic.
Next, Jesus helps these disciples process their trauma.
After this greeting, Jesus instructs his disciples to recognize the trauma inflicted on his body. For the disciples, this is a confrontation with what community organizer Edward Chambers calls “the world as it is”. The brutality of the Roman Empire and the horror of state sponsored execution are laid bare in Jesus’ scars which the disciples are instructed to touch and feel. The disciples must internalize the reality that Jesus was crucified and all of the horrors inflicted upon him happened.
Once Jesus’ followers process their trauma, they are then transformed into something that they were not before.
Here, the Gospel writer calls forth the images of Jesus breathing new life into the disciples. This is a direct reference to the book of Genesis where God breathes life into soil creating humans. Adam from adama. Once the disciples have processed their trauma, they are then something completely new. They are whole and complete people just as the first human was whole, complete, and good.
Finally, Jesus leaves his followers with a charge. The NRSV translates Jesus’ statements in the context of sin, which I think is clouded by how the word sin has been so misused. But the word sin is a descriptor for brokenness. Jesus’ statement is more aligned with the statement:
If you work to heal brokenness, it will be healed. If you don’t work to heal of the brokenness of this world, things will remain broken.
It’s not a condemnation of the brokenness, but an acknowledgement of that brokenness and a command to make things whole.
Today, our society and institutions are in a state of deep brokenness that continues cycles of violence and trauma. And we are constantly being confronted with deep pain and profound cynicism that allows atrocity to become customary. In the words of Hannah Arendt, there is a banality to the exploitation and suffering of our society that we have accepted as conditions for living. But more than that, even our solutions that we think promote justice are so bound in our own trauma that they continue to perpetuate harm.
Nowhere is this more evident than with our relationship with the environment. Right now, it’s estimated that humanity is on a trajectory to cause widespread ecological collapse within this decade. To ensure any semblance of reasonable life for our children, we need to completely change how we understand our lives. Yet most of the solutions that are presented to us will cause incredibly amounts of local environmental degradation in the form of extensive mining while not actually solving our underlying problems.
We are being asked to accept two unjust fates. We are told that either we rapidly decarbonize through technological means, which includes supporting industries that are built on the destruction of marginalized communities, economic exploitation, and literal child slavery or we must sit by and idly watch the world burn. To be perfectly clear, there is no environmental justice in either of those solutions.
But these conditions are not set. We don’t have to accept the narratives and solutions presented to us by technocorpratist elites and self-interested politicians. It is only our trauma and our fear that are keeping us from addressing the major challenges of our time in ways that stop cycles of violence and trauma - in ways that provide healing.
We are in a moment of great disruption socially, politically, and environmentally. We are living in a new age where long-held beliefs and systems are faltering and breaking. Our basic assumptions about how the world worked no longer apply to how things are moving. And that is traumatic, but it also provides us with a great opportunity to bring about justice and life in ways that have not been seen in generations in this country. These disruptions are the weight of exploitation folding in upon itself from its own short-sided greed and bloat. And it is in that breaking that we can bring forth something transformational and new.
But somehow, to do that we’re going to have to process a whole lot of trauma. And to do that, we will need to be resilient.
In this strange time, being resilient means living in the liminal space between “the world as it is” and “the world as it should be”. It is holding the immense suffering of this life and having the depth to be able to say we can make something better. We know there is such immense pain and suffering caused by the machines of injustice. But we also know that there are other possibilities that do not continue to perpetuate harm.
As we work on becoming resilient, we can learn to have what eco-theologian Cynthia Moe-Lobeda calls critical mystical vision. It is the ability to process and see what is going on in the world and while also seeing viable and life-giving alternatives to the destructive narratives of our time. It is understanding that there is a sacred Spirit of life that is pushing us toward an existence with abundant life for all creation and working alongside that spirit. And ultimately knowing in our bones that there will be justice, mercy, and all will be well.
Each Sunday for the past 8 months, I’ve had the joy of witnessing this faith community come together to provide a safe space and sanctuary for folks dealing with religious, economic, and political trauma. I’ve also had the immense joy of working alongside many of your leaders who care deeply for this community and know the true worth and value of a place like this when life is so unwell. And I can see the ways in which this community can help transform Nashville into a place of justice and healing, instead of a place slipping into oppression, hopelessness, and rigidity.
So how can we say all will be well? All will be well because with the Spirit of life we have the ability to make it well. It’s just a matter of seeing that we have the ability to do so, and the willingness to act. And there is nothing better that we could do with our lives than make things well. We will need to address our traumas, unlock our doors, and go into a dangerous world. We will need to have the courage to see what the world can be if we work towards making brokenness whole within ourselves and within our institutions. But in the end, all will be well, all will be well, all manner of things will be well.
May it be so.