between-our-steps-01-17-18-doubleWhen a baby cries in the night, one of the parents gets up. No matter how tired they are, the parents know that the baby is hungry and needs to be fed.I have come home from a late-night meeting, tired and in town clothes, gotten out of the car, and heard a little lamb calling, a thin, plaintive voice. I know I need to go out and check. There is a sound that says the animal won't make it to morning. But a summons to the barn means going to the house, changing clothes, finding a flash light, and going back out to see what is going on. Again, no matter how tired, this is a call that can't be ignored.

A friend phones and asks if we can get together for tea. They are having a rough time and need a chance to talk it through. We are summoned to listen.

Lately, I have seen a simple animated ad on Facebook inviting people to give blood. I don't normally like Facebook ads, but this one is not obtrusive, and it feels like a good place for this kind of ad. It isn't targeted at me based on my search patterns. A wide audience is reminded how valuable this action is.

Many community organizations reach out to us to ask for our money to help a good cause. We get a flood of requests just before the end of the year from good organizations telling of the needs in the world that they address, asking for our support. Again, we are summoned to make a concrete contribution.

When natural disaster hits, we see on the news the desperate situation people are in. We appreciate those who jump in and respond. We know we can support organizations like the Red Cross who will be right there on the ground with experience and resources to help people through.

Sometimes, however, we look at the world, see the need, and can't figure out what we could do to help. We look at Israel and the Palestinian Territories, for example, and see a deeply entrenched set of problems. We know that good organizations are trying, that good people are at work, but each time violence erupts, we feel summoned by the dream of peace and helpless to achieve it.

There are times we feel summoned, but have no sense of how to answer the call. The people in need are beyond our reach. The problem is too big for us to make a dent in it. The issue is so entrenched it feels like nothing will ever change. We feel helpless.

This feeling of helplessness is understandable but deeply problematic. It allows us to shrug and turn away. The pain is effectively denied. The person is abandoned. And we become insulated, protected from the call to change the world, burying our compassion beneath resignation.

Resignation not only kills compassion, it denies connection and responsibility. Sudan is one of the countries where civil war and the resulting famine have been endemic. Although it is far away, a Canadian oil company was one of those on the ground. As a country, we had a lever that could have been used to move toward peace.

Congo is another country where instability is ongoing. Recently, I was given a book that re-imagines the history of that area, imagining just enough more power and technology in the hands of the people to shift the devastating results of colonialism. This story introduced me to the monstrous genocide perpetrated by King Leopold II of Belgium. There is a reason behind the instability. When a situation looks impossible, there is a story to be learned, an explanation to be absorbed.

When Puerto Rico's power grid was devastated, I heard a CBC program about micro-power generation. This engineer was pushing for small scale projects that did not need the same kind of transmission system. The disaster was treated as an opportunity to shift the pattern to something more sustainable.

When we see problems that seem too big, we are still summoned to open ourselves to feel compassion. We can always hope for healing, peace, restoration. We can learn, and we can advocate. Giving in to hopelessness closes the door. Caring, dreaming keeps it ajar.

Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister, and writer living near Walters Falls.




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