Embracing the Present

November 9, 2020 by Glen Bell

How long, O Lord? How long?

Every day, all day, this is our prayer.

How long will we be separated from our cherished ones? Her beloved mother sits, behind the glass, so close yet so far from children and grandchildren, come to visit. How many more days will we hold our hearts in our hands as loved ones walk out the door, on the way to patients in the hospital – or into the community as first responders? How many more days will we wait and worry, wondering if the coronavirus will steal the ones we love?

How long will we be at odds with each other, when the ties that bind us in church and community have frayed and snapped? Political opponents have become enemies. Tempers flare. Grace and patience and kindness are in short supply. We talk over and past one another, instead of together seeking a common vision.

How long will creation suffer through hurricanes and wildfires? The beauty of our world is burdened to breaking by the stresses of ecological damage.

How long will people of color cry out — and hear only silence in return? How long will we be warped by structural racism? How long will we hear heart-wrenching stories of substandard housing, limited opportunities, and workplace discrimination? How will we learn to place others — women and children, immigrants, the disadvantaged and unhoused — at the very center of our stories?

How will we learn to love our neighbors?

How long, O Lord?

The writer of Psalm 13 reminds us that remembering is one of our single most important prayers — and one of the most significant acts of human relationship. We remember those separated and lost. We recall our adversaries and enemies. We remember those who are being mistreated, wounded and killed. For God’s sake, for the church’s sake, we recount the stories of the nameless, the overlooked, the forgotten.

This is difficult and painful work.

Several months ago, Anne and I moved to Louisville. Here many years ago, while downtown at the busy corner of Fourth and Walnut Streets, Trappist-monk-and-author-to-be Thomas Merton was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that God’s love encompasses all of us. It dawned on him “that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers …. [All these people were] walking around shining like the sun.”

That corner of Fourth and Walnut is only a few short blocks from Sixth and Jefferson, where protesters have gathered day after day during these last four months to cry out for justice for Breonna Taylor.

How long, O Lord?

In the face of it all, through all the trials and tumult, a few days ago, my friend Elizabeth pointed to these other lines by Thomas Merton: “You do not need to know precisely what is happening or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”

Pastors, we see you. We see your faithful service through the overwhelming stresses of these days. Elders, we recognize you. We recognize your determination and commitment in this wrenching season of life. May you all know the embrace of God’s courage, faith and hope as we together move toward the possibilities and challenges of this moment.

Rev. Dr. Glen Bell joined the Foundation in August 2020 as Senior Vice President of Development. Before joining the Foundation, Glen dedicated 30 years as a pastor in a wide variety of Presbyterian Church (USA) congregations, serving churches in North Carolina, Indiana, and Florida, including serving as executive pastor of Second Presbyterian Church, Indianapolis, Indiana, and pastor/head of staff, First Presbyterian Church, Sarasota, Florida. You can reach Glen at glen.bell@presbyterianfoundation.org.