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Between Us There Is No Between

Today’s blog is taken from the reflection and prayer offered during Wednesday’s Prayer for the World by Shalem graduate Barb Kelly.

Over the past several weeks I have been pondering and praying the question, “What obligations do we have to one another?” I have a heightened awareness of the question of obligation during this time of pandemic, and during this time of racial reckoning and work toward justice-making. This question has been growing in me, really pressing on me, in fact.

As a healthy—so far—woman in her late 60’s, what is my obligation to others’ health and safety during the pandemic? What are others’ obligations to me? As a person with a racial identity constructed as “white,” what is my obligation to name and let go the ways that this whiteness—my whiteness—is protected and preserved by the existence of white supremacy? What is my obligation to provoke that question in other white people?

My years of formation with Shalem offer ways to reflect on and pray these questions of obligation.

A key teaching I’ve received from Shalem is that our prayer is always for the world, our prayer transforms the world, starting with us. Our prayer is deeply needed by the world, and our obligation—our joy!—is to be God’s love and mercy and justice for the world through our prayer.

Still, too often, we see ourselves as separate from one another, separate from our world, and even from God. We see our nation as separate from other nations. In this view, we emphasize God’s transcendence and separateness from this world. We emphasize leaving the world, and our obligations to it, to embark on a personal quest for God, or a once-for-all-time individual salvation where we don’t have to keep working out this transformation by grace through obedience and service to others. We emphasize following Jesus rather than realizing and experiencing the quality of intimacy Jesus had with his Abba.

At a Shalem residency I learned to chant, “Between me and you there is no between.” Between me and you there is no between. If the word “obligation” means a bond by which each of us is tied together, then our obligation to one another is baked into the very structure of who and what we are as human beings. Between us there is no between.

Finally, to point to another way to envision our obligation to one another, let me mention one more Shalem teaching I received, and this was way back in winter of 2000. I have in my notes from that residency that Tilden Edwards said this: “The word in Russian for ‘solitude’ means being for everyone.” Tilden continued: “The one who goes off to be alone, that one is expected to bring a word back for the people.” When we seek solitude to be alone with God, to practice the presence of God, we are to listen for God’s word for the world. And we are to bring that back. Our obligation is to offer that word to one another.

This word from God will touch any and every aspect of our lives. It will touch on our obligation to do all we can to stem the spread of this virus and to keep each other safe and healthy. It will press on us our obligation to do all we can—all I can—to remove the systemic and structural existence of racism in our hearts and in our country. And ultimately it will be God’s word of courage and strength to help carry this world forward to its shalom, to its perfect wholeness.

Let us pray: Abandon yourself to the Beloved; draw closer and closer to Love, offer grateful praise from the chalice of your heart to the One who loves through you. Great peace have those who co-create with you. Fill us, O Gracious One, with your loving wisdom, guide all hearts on paths of peace, and mercy, and justice. (Adapted from Nan Merrill, Psalms for Praying)

During this week, may we continue to stay rooted and grounded in God’s love and in this quickening sense of our loving obligation to each other.

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Betsy Nero
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Betsy Nero

Barb, this is a beautiful reflection. I appreciate your honesty about whiteness and obligation. I have really been wrestling with what I am meant to be doing in these troubling times. Your prayerful writing will be a guide. Thank you.
(I am a graduate of the Transforming Community program – 2015 – and loved it!!)