Lent 10: Mending ozone...

Psalm 103:6-12 

6 The Lord works vindication  and justice for all who are oppressed  7 He made known his ways to Moses his acts to the people of Israel  8 The Lord is merciful and gracious slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love  9 He will not always accuse  nor will he keep his anger for ever  10 He does not deal with us according to our sins  nor repay us according to our iniquities  11 For as the heavens are high above the earth  so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him  12 as far as the east is from the west  so far he removes our transgressions from us

It's amazing how many insights I've had into various scriptures based on my experience with the film Angels in America. It would seem today is no different. Again I find myself turning to the words of Harper, the valium-addicted wife to a closeted gay, Republican Mormon lawyer. The following is her closing monologue:

Night flight to San Francisco. Chase the moon across America. God! It’s been years since I was on a plane. When we hit 35,000 feet we’ll have reached the tropopause, the great belt of calm air. As close as I’ll ever get to the ozone. I dreamed we were there. The plane leapt the tropopause, the safe air and attained the outer rim, the ozone which was ragged and torn, patches of it threadbare as old cheesecloth, and that was frightening. But I saw something only I could see because of my astonishing ability to see such things. Souls were rising, from the earth far below, souls of the dead of people who’d perished from famine, from war, from the plague, and they floated up like skydivers in reverse, limbs all akimbo, wheeling and spinning. And the souls of these departed joined hands, clasped ankles and formed a web, a great net of souls. And the souls were three-atom oxygen molecules of the stuff of ozone, and the outer rim absorbed them, and was repaired. Nothing’s lost forever. In this world, there is a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead. At least I think that’s so.

I remember the first time I flew. It wasn't until I finished college that I stepped on a plane not permanently grounded in the Air Force Museum in Ohio. As we climbed up, I felt my ears pop in a way much more intense than simply riding the elevator to the top of the Sears Tower. I looked out across the horizon, watching with the energy and intentionality of a child. Finally we hit our coasting altitude and I sat back and just stared. I was amazed. Granted, this was a flight from O'Hare to Northern Kentucky, so I didn't get to be amazed for long—I didn't have a reason to fly cross-country until 2009 when I attended the GCN conference in Anaheim... a very different experience for me having never seen mountains or canyons before.

The first time I heard Harper's monologue, I remember imagining the souls rising to mend the sky and heal its human-inflicted wounds. I remembered myself as a child thinking that God lived out amongst the stars, and that I wanted to fly just to be closer to God, to feel more tangibly the love my Creator has for me. I remember wanting to make her twilight journey from New York to San Francisco, "chas[ing] the moon across America." That particular journey, especially for those of us who have yet to leave the creature comforts of the United States, is indicative of the distance between east and west; and for me, it's indicative of just how far God wants to distance me from my woundedness, from my sin.

These days, especially when making a longer flight, I often pray that Harper's vision might be true, that somehow my life ends up making a difference for the whole of the world, that somehow through living, others might know love and might experience forgiveness.

My own vision is that the souls rising up aren't segregated by race, gender, class, age, sexuality, or even faith. I see them rising as a sign of humankind being what we were made to be: community entangled in love. In coming together, in defying divisiveness and breaking down boundaries, we re-encounter God's love for us and we rekindle God's hope in us.

There are scriptures (which I hope to come back with later and cite more rigorously) that attest to the human ability to change God's mind. Abraham argues with God. Moses argues with God. David argues. Jacob wrestles. Job argues with... wait, bad example. Paul argues. Peter argues. The list goes on.

The point is: while some like to harp on God's righteousness and holiness, separating those traits from God's graciousness and mercy, as far as I can see it, the various components of God's character are as tangled up and hopelessly inseparable from each other as the souls in Harper's apocalypse. If anything, God's holiness is subject to God's mercy, and God's righteousness submits to God's love. We as a human race are still here. There hasn't been fire yet rained down.

Clearly God's love for us is strong enough to hold out hope that we might one day rise up, hands clasped and ankles grasped, working together to mend ourselves and the world for which we've been charged to provide care.

In the words of our dear Harper, "In this world, there is a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead." Let the great work begin.