The Rev. Carissa Baldwin-McGinnis
We, people of faith, are meaning makers. It is a human tendency at large for communities and cultures to make meaning of personal and shared experiences.
We make meaning of our work.
We make meaning of our marriages.
We make meaning of our losses.
We make meaning of death.
In the moments when we seem unable to make meaning of our experience, we are most at risk of personal or spiritual crisis; a sense of destitution. And of all the systems of meaning making – political, religious, family-based – when our systems for understanding our experience in relation to God fail us, we are at risk of a most profound sense of abandonment. “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?”
A world at War as it was toward the end of WWI – a war that reached to every end of the earth - must have felt like a world groaning in labor pains, waiting “for adoption and the redemption of our bodies.” These words from today’s letter to the Romans lend themselves well to our occasion.
A world at war must have come to feel like a world forsaken. So the power of a centennial of Armistice Day – a day when the world stopped its waring to collect its shared breath – is the power of returning to that moments of global ceasefire that much have felt like the rest that comes after the final birthing contraction from which a baby is born. That moment when the mother is confirmed to have breath, the child takes its first on its own, and there is nothing to do but shed tears made of the mix of every possible human emotion.
The end of war for Christians is an empty tomb, a breath of life, a posture of hope. The end of war in the secular and political world involves a shared promise to regroup and reorganize. The end of war for humanity is a cultural condition for beginning a new round of story telling in order that wisdom prevail, and sacrifice be recounted in its truest and most right conceptual form.
The end of war time is when we are most likely to have a sober concept of death and sacrifice. Over time we must exercise discipline in our systems of meaning making to avoid stripping concepts like war sacrifice of their full truth and power.
It is a caution highlighted by lay theologian and liturgist, Gertrud Mueller Nelson, who warns against systems of meaning making or cultural narratives built on sentimentality. In her estimation sentimentality tells half-truths.
Based on her caution, we might conclude then that every sacrifice ought to be weighed and measured on the full set of its circumstances and true conditions. For in some cases the saying attributed to Horace may be true, “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.” How sweet and honorable to die for one’s country. And in some cases, as WWI poet Wildred Owen assessed, the Roman assertion will be a lie.
To make meaning of our experience is to dive into the complexities of our lives and our deaths. Any of you who, like me, have had to make meaning of your own wartime losses know the depths of this particular enterprise.
As meaning makers of the political order, we make these deep dives to keep history alive and to honor the past as we lead toward the future. As meaning makers of faith we do such deep dives in a commitment to hope, an intention toward universal love, and the longing for an ongoing peace.