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I wanted to write something super deep and meaningful and totally on the nose for this Maundy Thursday Post. All week and last I thought and thought and thought about what I would write.
But all I could think about was the really big boat.
I mean, it was hard to not think about the really big boat. Once my Facebook algorithm (I’ve named him Louie) figured out that I was into the really big boat, he peppered my newsfeed with news updates upon buzzfeed articles upon meme collections. And I was here for it.
Because there was just something so compelling about the Suez Canal Boat crisis. Everything about it seemed a little bit ridiculous. The size of the boat (gargantuan). The size of the channel (shallower than my neighbor’s pool, apparently). The fact that one boat getting stuck cost the world anywhere from 6 to 10 billion dollars in global trade. The fact that this crisis was big enough that you could see it from outer space.
And then there were the memes. The internet was on it’s A-game last week. People lost their minds when they brought the little digger out. In an instant the boat and the digger became metaphors for all the seemingly insurmountable problems in the world.
But I think the most compelling thing about the boat crisis was how simple it all really was. The problem? A really big boat was stuck in a really small channel. The solution? Get the boat unstuck. It was a big problem, and an expensive problem, but a simple problem nonetheless. We knew what had to be done. It was just a matter of how long the doing would take.
And that simplicity was compelling – and pulled me back into the story day after day – because nothing else right now seems simple.
All of our crises – covid, racism, gun violence, polarization, church division – none of them have easy answers. (I mean, I’m pretty sure some of them do have easy answers…but apparently people disagree with me. Which makes it less easy).
And so we’re faced with these monstrous problems, these glaring injustices, these news stories we’ve gotten used to seeing, and we don’t even know where to start. The problem isn’t simple. The solution won’t be either. So we get discouraged, and throw up our hands in exasperation, and lament, and vent our anger at people, and look for scapegoats, and put on another episode of Brooklyn 99. At least, that’s what I do.
On Monday night a friend sent me this brilliant quote from Thomas Merton’s “Letter to a Young Activist:”
“Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there too a great deal has to be gone through as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything…
“All the good that you will do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God’s love. Think of this more and gradually you will be free from the need to prove yourself, and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it.”
“In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.”
In the Gospel of John, when Jesus is talking to his disciples during the Last Supper (oh look, Maundy Thursday after all!) he tells them what to do as they face the really big reality of Jesus’ absence:
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
That’s it. Just that.
Love one another.
Do whatever you can today and do it in love.
Maybe it actually is just that simple.
Be the little digger and go out to meet the really big boat and do the little bit of work that you can do and do it in love. For the sake of the one right in front of you. Alongside the one beside you.
Because the work that little digger did? When a power beyond the digger came – when the miracle moon shone and the tide rose, all that digging meant something. Was part of something. Helped free the really big boat.
“The real hope, then,” says Merton, “is not in something we think we can do but in God who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see. If we can do God’s will, we will be helping in this process. But we will not necessarily know all about it beforehand.”
So be a little digger in a big boat world. Because One even bigger than the big boats holds all things in his hands.