by Fran Torres-Lopez
One of the many challenges we all face is learning what it means to live out our faith on a daily basis in the myriad of circumstances in which we find ourselves.
I notice that if I am not careful, this challenge can feel overwhelming and begin to get the better of me. I hear about many troubling things in our world that need reconciling: racial tension, war, environmental destruction, poverty, even battles over faith doctrine. The challenges seem so big that at times it can feel as if the only sane response is apathy.
But then I am called back by good teachers and a cloud of witnesses. I am called back when the Rev. Dr. Jane Patterson leads a Sunday formation class where she teaches that reconciliation between God and neighbor is part of our mission.
I am called back when the Rev. Carol Morehead preaches a sermon encouraging us to stretch beyond ourselves as we respond to the situations in our world requiring reconciliation.
Once my vision is steadied on our mission of reconciliation I am further guided when I hear the Rev. Beth Knowlton end her sermon with the words of Emily Dickinson:
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
The guidance continues when I recall Mother Theresa’s words: “Do small things with great love.”
All of these teachings culminate into a very small, soft question for me: “How can I help today?”
This was the question on my mind when I was on vacation this past summer. My wife and I were celebrating our anniversary with our two sons, and part of that celebration included a day at Fiesta Texas. The weather was hot, and I recall enjoying the coolness of the wave pool as I looked up at the beautiful sky and wondered, “How can I help today?”
This felt like a subtle but sincere question I put to God, like a child wondering, not really expecting an answer.
At one point during the day I waited at a table with our younger son while my wife and our older son went to ride the Gully Washer. I stood at the table watching as a mother and her son inserted a quarter into a machine that sprays water on people at the push of a button. They inserted the quarter then stepped aside to watch for the right time to spray the water. Then in the next moment another woman walked by, pushed the button, and kept on walking.
The first mother and her son looked in disbelief at what the woman had done. I was shocked, too, but then decided the second woman probably did not realize someone else was already using the machine. My assumption was she was simply in a playful mood and unthinkingly walked by and pushed the button.
I watched the first mother and her son as I heard her make the accusatory statement: “That woman owes me a quarter!” The mother told her son to go tell the woman what happened, but he would not.
In that moment the idea of reconciliation entered my mind. It seemed to me the mother and her son might hold some bitterness in their hearts. I recognized anger in response to injury.
I thought about the larger reconciling that needs to occur in the world, and in that moment it all seemed related. If any one of us, even on a small level, is not reconciled then through our connection as humans we all suffer.
So I walked over to the woman who had pushed the button and gently explained what happened. She seemed shocked and confused. I did not want to offend her so I said, “I don’t think you did it on purpose. I figure you didn’t realize but I just wanted to let you know.” Then she said to me, “Well, honey, I will give you another quarter.” I said, “Oh no, it’s not my quarter. It belonged to that little boy in the grey shirt.”
The woman walked over, talked to the little boy, gave him a quarter, and then began talking with his mother. The two women stood close to each other, talking and laughing almost as if they knew one another. Tears welled up as I witnessed the first mother’s disposition change from anger to a sort of camaraderie. The women were now reconciled.
As she moved away, the woman who pushed the button stopped to thank me for explaining what happened.
In all of these things, I feel very childlike and inexperienced. I do not know what I am doing, and I have many flaws. Yet it is my simple understanding that God wants to use us to help in this project of reconciliation despite our many flaws and shortcomings.
I am thankful I have small opportunities in which I can practice — opportunities that allow me to see what it can look like for two strangers to be reconciled instead of polarized.
In the midst of my vacation, another teacher posted a prayer on Facebook by Brother Roger who is the founder of the Taizé Community. This prayer keeps me company as I continue to live into our mission of reconciliation:
O Risen Christ,
You breathe your Holy Spirit on us and you tell us: ‘Peace be yours’. Opening ourselves to your peace — letting it penetrate the harsh and rocky ground of our hearts — means preparing ourselves to be bearers of reconciliation wherever you may place us.
But you know that at times we are at a loss.
So come and lead us to wait in silence, to let a ray of hope shine forth in our world.
For your own reflection:
How might you decide when you encounter situations of conflict whether you should intervene or stay silent?
Where is God asking you to speak peace into a situation? Will that take words, actions, or prayers?
How hard is it for you to accept that you are called to be a “minister of reconciliation”?
Fran Torres-Lopez is a software developer who lives in San Antonio. She is a member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. Reach her at email@example.com.