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A Word of Encouragement

“To encourage you today.”

That was the subject line on an email I received from a parishioner this morning.

Like most of us this week, this parishioner’s mind has very much been on the Tucson shootings.

Then, she read the newspaper headline for the man who did the shooting: Friends, Teachers Tell of Loughner’s Descent Into World of Fantasy. She told me she started praying “that God would show me those people who could be heading this same direction, so it can be stopped before such catastrophes [happen again].”

Two points about that.

One is the recognition that events like this don’t “just happen.” They are orchestrated by the evil one.

Hear me clearly: I am not saying the shooter “is” himself, evil. But I am saying that one of the downsides of our post-enlightenment, highly rational, Western, scientific mindset is that we only believe in -- or think of as “real” -- that which we can see, prove, taste, touch, or measure. And so we walk around with blinders on, oblivious to a huge part of reality that previous generations and eastern cultures still see: the realm of principalities and powers. Spirits. What The Book of Common Prayer calls “spiritual forces of wickedness,” “evil powers of this world,” and “sinful desires.”

These principalities and powers, these spirits or forces, have this in common: they rebel against God, corrupt and destroy God’s creatures, and separate us from the love of God. No one has a monopoly on these principalities and powers, and no one is immune to them, either.

We’ve almost completely lost touch with that aspect of reality. Most of the time we are looking at reality through a paper towel tube, blind to the spirit realm.

But then something like this happens and we’re jolted out of our naiveté. Or at the very least, we bump up against the limits of our mindset, struggling to explain away or come to grips with events like this. Psychologists and sociologists and politicians fill the airwaves offering every explanation under the sun expect the only two which do explain situations like this: One, that human behavior is a mystery -- we don’t know why we act like we do; and two, there is evil in this world -- this is not a sitcom, we were born into a world at war.

Here’s something you’ll never hear in a 30-second sound bite on MSNBC, CNN, or FOX: Theologically speaking, while we have been freed from the penalty of Sin, and we are being freed from the power of Sin. But it is not until the conclusion of history (ours, or all of human history) and enter the highest heavenly realm that we will be freed from the presence of Sin. Until then -- I hate to be the one to break it to you -- life is a bloody battle; goodness and mercy and love does not come automatically, they are opposed, and we have to fight for them.

Which brings me to my second point, a point of encouragement.

Recall that this parishioner prayed that God would show her those people who could be heading into darkness, so bad things can be stopped before they happen.

Then she realized that that is already happening. That’s what she does every day at work: her prayers and conversations with colleagues help prevent things from happening that would have not been good, like what happened in its worst form in Tucson.

Again, as rational, scientific people, we often look for tangible results. Yet it is the hidden things that are most real, and the most powerful. The kind word spoken to someone who is flailing. The kind deed done for someone who is lashing out.

Often we think we’re failing at work…at our relationships…at being a person of faith. We wonder if our presence in the workplace or home really makes a difference to the people around us.

And so a word of encouragement for you today: the blinders we have on prevent us not only from seeing the darker aspects of reality, but they prevent us from all of goodness, as well: our contributions, our growth, the ways we have encouraged and helped others.

(That’s part of the reason the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life” is so powerful: the angel Clarence is sent to remove George’s blinders, allowing George to see all of the previously invisible ripple-effect contributions he had made over his life.)

There’s a star -- the second brightest star in the constellation Pictor -- called “Beta Pictoris.” It is more than 1 ½ times larger and more than 8 times brighter than the Sun. You’ve probably never heard about it (as I had never heard about it until I looked it up just now), and never seen it.

That does not mean Beta Pictoris does not exist.

To encourage you today: know that your presence, your prayers, your actions are often Beta Pictoris. Unknown, unseen.

But real. And large. And bright.

You are preventing evil from taking its toll. You are short-circuiting depression. You are stopping downward spirals before they start. You are dropping treasures into people’s lives. You are planting seeds of encouragement.

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