(Running a day behind...)
“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” - Luke 21:34-36.
We were coming home from a day out of town this Saturday, happy to be approaching our town as the daylight rapidly disappeared. We passed a series of farm fields, now barren and ready for winter, that line the highway; as we did, we noticed a subtle but steady movement along the treeline on the far side of the field. It was a string of deer, slowly making their way along the edge of the field. Their color matched that of the bare earth and corn stubble and dry weeds around them; they were barely visible. Every so often one of them would stop the group's resolute trek to lift up its head and scan its surroundings.
I felt pity for the deer, this last weekend of the firearm deer season. I was aware, from my daylight trips down this highway, how many hunters' stands and shanties lay hidden in the trees. I suspected that more than one member of the herd had fallen to a hunter's bullet in the past days. I tried to imagine what it would be like to be a deer this time of year, experiencing the sudden terror of the rifle's blast, the smell of gunpowder and blood, and the running, the breathless running for one's life, into the next field for a few minutes' respite...only to have the terror repeat again, and again, and again.
Those of you reading this, like myself, don't live with the day-to-day terror that our four-legged neighbors face. But many people on this planet do, in places beset by war or disease or natural disaster. And even in the relative comfort of 21st century America, there's a sense these days that our privilege has come to an end; like the deer, we are finding that we can't simply run from our present economic or societal woes into some quiet, verdant next-door pasture. That's how it feels here in mid-Michigan, right now. And as the text in Luke suggests, some of us here in depressed rural America are sedating ourselves with drugs to take the edge off our lives, while others of us live with ongoing gnawing anxiety that eats away at our physical and mental health, shortens our tempers and prompts us to circle the wagons around what's left -- our possessions, our affiliations, our ideologies.
So is there a good word at all in Sunday's Gospel lesson? I think it's the same message I saw in the lives of the deer. You carry on, for your own sake and for that of the people around you. You live prudently. You keep moving when you can. You pray -- which I think deer do by being themselves, and which we do in part by being ourselves, truly ourselves, and offering that to God. And maybe some day -- some day -- we will find ourselves in a place with no more pain, no more anxiety, no more confusion, standing before the Son of Man.