Percy Shelley’s “Ozymandias”
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away
The last century began with two horrific world wars that changed the political and cultural landscape of the world as it had been experienced until then. Within the last two millennia, genocide has been committed at the same time as engagement between unknown cultures. Global trade and communication have advanced with each decade, along with exploitation, greed and corporate control over society.
With the violence we see everywhere in our world, and with the shocking results of the American election, we feel frightened and uncertain. Even more frightening, apparently our newspapers (The Hamilton Spectator) are being deluged with hate mail. Is this our voice or are these agents provocateurs? How do we decide which information is accurate and which is intentionally misleading?
Jesus responds to these same concerns in his own time. He could see the fractures in his own religion that needed to experience a reformation. He accurately analyzed the rotten core of the Roman Empire and he identified the problem of large groups of impoverished, desperate, angry people. We have tended to spiritualize his apocalyptic sayings but I suspect they are concrete warnings that the structures: political, economic, cultural, and their physical artefacts of buildings, statues, roads, would not, could not survive.
Until humanity evolves beyond greed and aggression, we are caught in a cycle of domination and revolt. Given how intimate our knowledge of each other has become, we are particularly vulnerable when the monuments of power come crashing down. It is not surprising to me that the politics of hate are rampant. I am sure they are fuelled by the powerful as they rage at others working to help humanity grow and learn peace.
Every time, we raise the ideals discussed in the Charter for Compassion, or protest the proliferation of earth killing plans, or stand with indigenous people, women, children, refugees, and others, we are pulling the tails of those who live invisibly in the corridors of power.
It seems hopeless, but Jesus reminds us that we may not be able to solve the problem, but we must hold fast through the grim days. We will stand with the vulnerable, with the protesters, with the resisters. We will protect the earth and its creatures. We will dare to be called naïve, to be soft-hearted; we will dare to act like Jesus, thus bringing him into our world, our time, and our witness. As Leonard Cohen said in an interview,
There’s a line in “The Future”: “When they said repent, I wonder what they meant.” I understood that they forgot how to build the arch for several hundred years. Masons forgot how to do certain kinds of arches, it was lost. So it is in our time that certain spiritual mechanisms that were very useful have been abandoned and forgot. Redemption, repentance, resurrection. All those ideas are thrown out with the bath water. People became suspicious of religion plus all these redemptive mechanisms that are very useful. from an interview with Leonard Cohen (RIP)
And finally, when we are told that war is inevitable, or that climate change is not a problem, then we will remember that God’s promise is that we are made for joy and peace; we are made to be loving and generous, faithful and courageous. When we wear the symbols of our faith: the cross where all tension is resolved in love at the centre; the fish — the sign of our inclusivity and welcome for all; the bread — the sign of labour for each other and for the global community; the wine — the cup of shared tears and laughter. Then we are expressing our hope and faith in a wider vision. We can let this world pass, because we are already preparing for change in the next era, for hope for our children and grandchildren. Jesus entrusted us with the task of keeping his vision through the ages until the time of peace has come and so we serve him with joy in the midst of struggle, and faith in the time of doubt.