Keeping Vigil at the Bedside of the World
The late, great author, theologian, and civil rights leader Howard Thurman noted that humans “keep a troubled vigil at the bedside of the world.” Those words are particularly striking when combined with the words of James Baldwin, in a 1970 interview with David Frost: “It is horrible to watch a nation lose itself.” In that same interview, Baldwin bemoaned what he saw as the failure of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. He said, “In the beginning, we thought there was a way to reach the conscience of the people of this country.” That optimism faded with time, Baldwin noted.
It was as though Baldwin was explaining why African Americans and other minorities were still keeping vigil—troubled vigil—at the bedside of the world. The world is indeed sick because we refuse to give God the honor and respect God deserves. We take God’s presence for granted, even as we disrespect and ignore the things God cares about. We mutilate that which God has created and think nothing of it. In operating this way, it is as though we are taking an aspirin to treat a brain tumor. It just will not work. Some continue this behavior without a thought, while others see what is going on and know that the world is undergoing a seismic shift.
We are keeping a troubled vigil.
The only cure is God’s true presence, and a genuine love and respect for the God who does not sanction what we are doing to each other and to the world God created. Our quest for material wealth has put us in a stock-market-like environment, screaming at each other, pushing each other aside, even breaking into fights, not because we love God’s world but because we want to continue to exploit God’s world by exploiting each other.
Some ask, as did the writer of Psalm 42, “Why is all of this happening? Why is evil in the form of racism and sexism and xenophobia happening? Where is your God? Why is God letting this happen?”
Those keeping vigil at the bedside of the world can only whisper, “We thought there was a way to reach the conscience of the people.” People who exist on the margins realize that the spiritual decay that began long ago only seems to grow more and more putrid. Even if we tried to explain why we know God is present in spite of the world’s sickness, far too many people would not understand. They would not be able to see or to hear.
Baldwin noted that his nation was “losing itself.” We sit at the world’s bedside today as it appears to be losing itself and keep a troubled vigil, as God does the same. God calls us to listen and to work even as we hold vigil. We weep as we remember the goodness of the Lord in our lives but we also rejoice because, ultimately, we know the goodness of the Lord is stronger than the evil of the world. God has not forsaken us; God will be with us when the horrendous virus of racism and oppression breaks. God will prevail.
Amen and amen.