The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
The woodcut to the right is by Fritz Eichenberg (1901 – 1990, Peace Dale RI). He was a Quaker who worked with Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker. It first appeared in 1950 in the wake of World War II and at the beginning of the Cold War.
Named "The Peaceable Kingdom," it reflects the lectionary for Sunday. If you look at the picture, you will notice that while the lion, the child, and the bunny sitting under the tree of life seem to be at peace, the rest of the animals register a sense of threat or dis-ease. It is not a peaceful scene. The word peaceful means full of peace. The word peaceable means not violent and disposed toward peace. After the recent election, peaceable is the best we can say about our country. We are filled with brokenness and distrust.
On Nov. 1, David Brooks was moved to write in an editorial in The New York Times about Martin Buber:
"I-Thou" relationships… are personal, direct, dialogical — nothing is held back. A "Thou" relationship exists when two or more people are totally immersed in their situation, when deep calls to deep, when they are offering up themselves and embracing the other in some total, unselfconscious way, when they are involved in "mutual animated describing."
"The development of the soul in the child is inextricably bound up with that of the longing for the Thou," Buber wrote. All through life, the self is emerging out of some dialogue, either a cold stifling one or a rich complete one: "All real living is meeting."
You can't intentionally command I-Thou moments into being. You can only be open to them and provide fertile soil.
The beauty of Eichenberg's print is that the animals are trying to be open to each other even in the midst of distrust. As we all know, sharing in this journey is the only path toward healing and hope. We can witness it right now in the Conference's commitment to racial justice.
I am writing this a week before the election. But it is clear that (no matter who has won) as a nation we will need to begin this same journey of creating I-Thou opportunities that let love flow and heal all around us.
Let us pray for the openness to recognize the opportunities, the courage to step into them, the wisdom to recognize the words we need, and the courage to act. Let us create Thou moments in which deep calls to deep and the peaceful kingdom starts coming to birth among us. May this be an Advent in which the peace of Christ truly breaks forth from us.
The Rev. Dr. Mary Louise Howson is a retired UCC pastor.