Today, we celebrate the 200th episode of “The Word is Resistance,” a SURJ-Faith podcast. This is an excerpt from the transcript, words from Nichola Torbett. Click here to listen to the full episode: Justice and Peace Shall Kiss.
Now, I am grateful to my Jewish cantor friend, Shira Stanford-Asiyo, who taught me that “fearing God” in Hebrew actually means something more like “standing in awe before God” (or sitting or lying down in awe, if that’s what your body can do). In other words, we are saved in awe. We are saved in wonder. We are saved as we orient ourselves in grateful relationship to God and to the redwood tree and the dung beetle and the Milky Way, and every single person alive, including people we can’t see because they are incarcerated, they are in immigrant detention, they are living under the freeway, or they are on the other side of some border wall; we come to know ourselves in relationship to all of these. We are saved as we feel deep in our bones, simultaneously how tiny we are, relative to this swirling starscape, and how beloved we are, all of us, by the Creator of all of it. There is no way to hold onto supremacy thinking in the face of all this. We come to realize that we know only a little, only what we can see from this tiny spot where we sit. We are saved in humility, the earthy cousin of awe. “Salvation is at hand for those who are in awe.”
This is a really different view of salvation than I used to have. As an organizer, I used it think it was something like this: Those of us who are right; those of us who, you know, heed God; in other words, those of us who GET IT, who have all the right opinions, who are justice warriors—we just need to convince all the rest of the people to get it, too, or maybe that’s not realistic, maybe we just need to convince ENOUGH of them that we can overpower the rest with our greater numbers, and then, poof, salvation would be upon us.
But I don’t think we can win that way. Not in the long term.
There is something else we are being called to. We are being called to let go of believing we are right and others are wrong—that is supremacist thinking. We are being invited to sense our rightful size and place in an interdependent universe and to assume it with fierce love and great courage, and then to invite others into that with us, not out of moralism or self-righteousness, but because we want everyone to know the joy we have found.
Salvation, it seems, is a meat tenderizing process, not because God wants to give us a pounding, but because the nature of life is fragile, fleeting, vulnerable—the beauty can’t be separated from the fragility—and renouncing supremacy means we come into relationship with shared vulnerability. The callouses are being removed. We are being worked over, gentled, broken open so that, in the words of Flannery O’Connor, “Nothing human, [we might even say “Nothing alive”] is alien to us.” Alice Walker says, “The way forward is with a broken heart.” The Psalmist says “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
This is salvation, that we find ourselves joining the crowd of vulnerable humanity without the protections of privilege. From our place within the crowd, we glimpse the Black freedom fighter, and we are convicted: Not one hair on her head can be harmed; we won’t stand for it. We meet the Anishinaabe water protector, and we know we cannot let them be brutalized for the water we all need; we won’t stand for it. We see the retired white coal miner now running himself ragged at the Amazon warehouse, and we can’t bear it; we won’t stand for it. We are not better than anyone else; we are no one’s savior, but we are all bound up in all of it. And it is beautiful, awe-inspiring, precious. This is God’s glory known throughout this land, indigenous land—sovereign, fecund, thriving land. This is our salvation at hand.