Minute particulars

On finding opportunities to apply the slight weight of our convictions

by Ken Sehested

Recently I forwarded the social media link to an article detailing the ways religious piety was intertwined with the violent uprising at our nation’s capitol on 6 January 2021. My ever-thoughtful friend Susan responded with this question: “Scary. How is the best way to counter this descent into the same horrors as German Christians did following Hitler?”

I composed a couple sentences of response. But then a new door opened in my mind; then another, then another. And I ended up writing, over a few days time, the following:

Good question, Susan. At least at this point, I know of no singular strategy. As William Blake noted, those who would do good must do so in “Minute Particulars.” We are each given opportunities—on familiar streets, in specific watersheds—to apply the slight weight of our convictions regarding the Beloved Community in countless small acts.

  • in standing up and speaking out when opportunities arise, even if it disturbs the “peace”;
  • in doing the good because of its sheer beauty, without expectation of reward or applause—though at the same time looking for opportunities to encourage and applaud others in their devotion to personal kindness and to public justice;
  • in finding ways to collaborate with other people of faith and conscience, even when it’s costly or inconvenient or uncomfortable;
  • in refusing the temptation to think everything is up to us;
  • in living penitentially, ready to admit mistakes, but without becoming self-absorbed;
  • in understanding that no one can start a revolution but that we can prepare for one—for the time when extraordinary resolve and heightened risk may be needed;
  • in learning the difference between being a servant and being a slave;
  • in putting a bridle on our anger for use in constructive rather than destructive ways;
  • in refusing to postpone joy—or, in a slight paraphrase of a line from the Talmud: we will finally be judged for the permitted pleasures we failed to enjoy;
  • in furthering truth without being mean; practicing compassion devoid of empty sentiment;
  • in knowing that sabbath keeping is so much more than taking a nap—that, as in Scripture, sabbatical practice involves land redistribution, cancellation of debt, release of slaves, and safeguarding the created order itself;*
  • in honoring the wisdom of our ancestors as well as the playfulness of our children;
  • in noticing, praising and applauding beauty not just in pricey art or elegant dining or exquisite attire but in every wildflower, in the cost-free colors of a sunset, in the aroma of fresh baked bread, in the caress of a lover’s hand or the winsome voice of a dear friend;
  • in living in, drawing from, and testifying to the well of hope needed to sustain life in every drought stricken season and circumstance;
  • in being ever mindful of the One Who cherishes every breath and heart’s beat—and Who safeguards our beloved presence even beyond the day of each heart’s arrest and every lung’s stilled silence.

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*See the “jubilee” provisions named in Leviticus 25, to which Jesus appealed in his first sermon (Luke 4:18-19, “the year of the Lord’s favor,” quoting Isaiah 61).