As this extraordinary year marked by disruption, unravelling, and the uncertainty created by the Covid-19 pandemic winds down, I am thinking of two significant “events” this December, events I have been honored to be part of, both marked by the logic of “madness”, both part of the effort to “invent the future.”
First, a virtual Vatican Christmas retreat on nonviolence on December 18. I was both honored and humbled to be invited to address the over 700 participants from around the world, from here at Bethany House, Uganda, over Zoom, on “Gospel Nonviolence: Toward a Laudato Si Future”. In my presentation I noted that we commit ourselves to the path of nonviolence not simply because it works; not simply because it is an effective strategy for social change; but because it is the way of God – the way that God creates, rules and redeems the world. True, in a world that is so enamored by and used to violence, this way of God cannot but appear as totally impractical, even irresponsible, and insane, as if “from another planet”. See my presentation here, or read the text:
Then, Bethany Land Institute management planning retreat, also held here at Bethany House (Dec 18-19), in which we made the decision to open Bethany Land Institute on February 15, 2021. This is quite ambitious, even insane! The dormitories and other buildings are only half finished; no power, no water, no furniture, not enough funds, no publicity yet, no prospective students….. (the list is endless). So, how will this be possible? Soon after the decision, I was reminded of Mary (the following day was 4th Sunday of Advent, and the Gospel was about Mary receiving the angel with the news and the invitation to be the mother of God’s child). Mary’s response: “But how will this be possible since….”. I am encouraged by the angel’s reply to Mary’s genuine concern: “Do not be afraid…. The power from above will come you.”
But I am also encouraged by other similar uncertain beginnings. On hearing the news that we are committed to start on Feb 15, a friend sent me this encouraging reminder that:
Harvard University began in 1632 in a single frame house – with one teaching master. Their first graduating class was 9 students in 1642. They now boast of an alumni that raised up 8 US presidents, 48 Nobel Laureates and many billionaires. They have 20,000 students there today.
Notre Dame organized in 1842 – in 1849 they graduated their first class, awarding only 2 degrees. 2019 Notre Dame enrolled 12,467 graduate and undergraduate students.
University of Michigan organized in 1841. They graduated their first class in 1845 – 11 students were awarded degrees. They record that they have approximately 500,000 living alumni today.
And so we too journey on with confidence, undeterred by the many challenges that surround us, including Covid-19, fixing our eyes on the promises of a future yet to be realized.
Happy new year 2021.