There is a kindness that dwells deep down in things; it presides everywhere, often in the places we least expect. The world can be harsh and negative, but if we remain generous and patient, kindness inevitably reveals itself. Something deep in the human soul seems to depend on the presence of kindness; something instinctive in us expects it, and once we sense it we are able to trust and open ourselves.
To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings
There are times when I read John O’Donahue’s words on kindness and fear he is terribly mistaken. Stories of violence fill our airwaves; hateful words swirl in our society, wielded as weapons designed to silence and sideline others. We are days away from another election, and some elected officials and politicians shamelessly deploy racism and fear-mongering intending to motivate voters by their basest instincts. Ugly, fantastical rumors swell like wildfires, spreading across social media, while news on the very real challenges we face as a country suffer from lack of attention. At moments like these I tend toward despair, feeling deep down that the words of the poet Maggie Smith in her poem, “Good Bones,” may be more true than O’Donahue’s,
...Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children….
Perhaps I am despite what I fear, surprisingly an optimist at heart, or merely naïve to a fault. Whenever I teeter on the abyss of despair, just when my cynicism thinks it’s won the day, something pulls me back. A fierce defiance rises up, just enough to push back against the forces of gloom. A spark of what might be hope appears, oftentimes in places I least expect to find encouragement.
A few weeks ago I attended the 2nd annual Justice Festival at Morehead State University. Along with MSU students and staff, there was a class of high school students in attendance. Now, in the news you may read about the post-pandemic decline of test scores or in casual conversation it is often said that this generation is lazy and unengaged. The kids present at the Justice Festival upended those negative stereotypes. In workshops they asked insightful questions, brought facts to the conversations, and a tangible passion to issues which directly affect their lives. They were a real-life embodiment of the lyrics of the Broadway hit, Hamilton, “With every word, I drop knowledge. I'm a diamond in the rough, a shiny piece of coal.” Faced with the realities of injustice in the world, these high school students weren’t despairing; they were fired up and ready to rise up!
As I left the Justice Festival, I realized that for all the helpful information presented, what I had really needed that day was the students from that high school class. In their passion I found an ember of resistance inside me, refusing to give up. I suspect Maggie Smith can’t quite let go of hope either, for her poem ends with a comparison to a realtor, walking prospective buyers through a fix-it-upper and the openness of a future yet to be,
“This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.
We could indeed make this place beautiful—one deviant act of kindness, one brave bit of good trouble at a time.
May it be so.
A native of Illinois, Rev. Nancy Gowler lived for 26 years in the Pacific Northwest. She joined the ministry of First Christian Church in Morehead, KY, in July of 2020.