Me Own Imperturbe
“Me Imperturbe, standing at ease in Nature,
Master of all or mistress of all, aplomb in the midst of irrational things,
Imbued as they, passive, receptive, silent as they,
Finding my occupation, poverty, notoriety, foibles, crimes less important than I thought,
Me toward the Mexican sea, or in the Mannahatta or the Tennesse or far north or inland,
A river man, or a man of the woods or of any farm-life of these States or of the coast, or the lakes of Kanada,
My wherever my life is lived, O to be self-balanced for contingencies,
To confront night, storms, hunger, ridicule, accidents, rebuffs as the trees and animals do.”
Me Imperturbe by Walt Whitman in Leaves of Grass
The past weeks and months have had me diving into old classics. Rereading stories that I’ve read so many times, just for the familiarity of what I know will happen. This search for comfort brought me to Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman. There is great uncertainty that surrounds our country, and ourselves during this time. The division among our citizens is reaching a boiling point. Our beliefs have pitted us as Americans against each other in ways we didn’t know were possible. Brother against brother. Family against family. Friend against friend. We are filled with anger, fear, sadness, validation, triumph, and self-righteousness. We are a nation divided. This poem, and the knowledge of its writer, struck a much needed chord in my search for comfort.
Walt wrote during the greatest time of unrest and division in our nation, the Civil War. Walt himself went in search of a lost and wounded brother during the war. He was not a stranger to the pains and realities of a people divided against themselves. We have never been more of a nation divided than at that time in history. We even had geographical lines to mark our ideological differences. With hate and fear we murdered our own people for the sake of ideals we realized we didn’t share. We looked at our own countrymen and said ‘you are not one of us.’ ‘If you can believe…then you do not belong here.’ There has never been more blood shed than over our own perceived differences. Walt took to his art. He lost jobs over it. He lost friends over it. But he took to his art nonetheless. He wrote in a seemingly careless style for his time. Breaking from formation of the greatest known writers to set his notions free to a world determined not to conform to anyone else.
Our enemy in this current age is not ‘them.’ The person that believes ‘that.’ The person that could vote for ‘that person.’ Our enemy is our own notion that our country should only conform to our own beliefs and our own ideals. After all, isn’t that exactly what ISIS wants too? A country to themselves that adheres to only their interpretation of a religious law? Personally I praise God we are not in a 100% Christian nation. First of all, that would mean the end of the world has come and I’m not here to write this. Secondly, Christians are the most segregated religion on the planet. In America alone, the largest denominations worth mentioning total 35. Christians most definitely cannot be trusted to mend a broken system, despite the fact that we hold the one true tool to reconciliation in our hearts, the Holy Spirit. We find more ways to divide ourselves, than we do to reach those that have not heard the name of Jesus uttered on their breath.
We are all under the delusion that God is most definitely on our side, all the while he is merely watching petulant siblings fight over a ideological Lego. All the people he loves dearly, behaving out of righteous indignation, asking for validation of what we’ve already done. While God asks the question: Why does this matter? This is not why we were created. This is not who we are. We are all created in his image. We have all been given infinite patience to come to God, to know God, and to repeat that over and over again as we daily fail to be who we were intended to be. You, me, and them.
If we want a nation less divided we need to get to work, honoring the temple of the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 ‘Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will bring ruin upon anyone who ruins this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you Christians are that temple.” Italics mine.
God gives us so many ways and examples of how to honor him and who we are as his temple.
Matthew 5:13-16 “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it useful again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. You are the light of the world-like a city on a mountain, glowing in the night for all to see. Don’t hide your light under a basket! Instead, put it on a stand and let it shine for all. In the same way, let your good deeds shine for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly father.” Italics mine.
Salt and light have one thing in common; they cannot be denied. Salt reacts with everything it comes into contact with. When used for the right intentions it will enhance life greatly. Adding flavor to food. Making our streets and sidewalks safer. Conditioning our water. Making paper, plastic, glass, polyester, and rubber. Adding nutrition to livestock through supplements. However, when it comes into contact with items not intended for its use, it can quickly become corrosive and destructive. Corroding cars and all steel structures. We cannot use salt, without being affected by it.
The same goes for light. We have no choice but to see light. The only purpose our eyes have is to take in light. Light is essential to even the breath in our lungs. Without it, there would be no oxygen to breath. However, when used against us, it can also be damaging. How many times have I told my children to stop shining that flashlight in each other’s eyes? Light pollution from our own cities and homes affects our ability to see the night sky, and it affects the migration of many bird species during night flights.
Both salt and light can be incredibly useful, or destructive, but they cannot be denied.
We all, as temples of the Holy Spirit, have been gifted with a portion of salt and light for the world, as given by God. My husband and I have one of those gifts in common. We call it the face. We both have been given a face, that for whatever reason, compels people to tell us their life stories in the oddest of circumstances, without any words or effort on our part to extract it. It became an exceptional asset in youth ministry. Parents would ask me how I got their child to open up about deep seated problems, and I had to honestly tell them that I was just sitting there and their child started talking. I was, and still am, a big supporter of retreats and mission trips. Not so much that I enjoyed the work that we did or worship that we did, but because it gave me endless hours in cars and on hikes for me to just sit there. God would use me just sitting there to draw out of students what he needed to heal. He would use my face to bring it out, so I could then turn them to Christ for the restoration they needed. It was just the face. I once sat for an hour with a teenage, trouble-making boy and did not utter a single word while his normally tight-lipped scowl melted into a puddle of emotion unseen by myself or his family for years. It was the face. My husband has similar experiences even in his secular job. He has had countless encounters with employees just bubbling over with personal histories. He finds himself in personal conversations with corporate executives in what should have been a business meeting. It was the face. Outside of our work though, it can become quite an annoyance. We make sure that we are seated next to each other on airplanes, because then we only have to hear one person’s life story, versus 4. We will get caught standing in line at the grocery store, or in a hotel lobby listening to someone’s story or problem and inevitably be late for meeting up with one another. We will often just shrug apologetically and say ‘it was the face.’
It took me a long time to realize that this was God’s portion of salt and light he has give to us. It took me even longer to realize that I can’t deny it. I can’t bottle up my salt and hide my light. It will not be denied. It is there when I’m waiting to pick up my children from school. It’s there when I sit in the pew of my church. It’s there when I’m walking down the sidewalk, and when we go out to eat. I can’t shut off my face when I meet people, just because I don’t feel like talking to anyone right then. God doesn’t really care about that. He opens their mouths anyway. I can’t hide inside my house, just so I don’t have to hear other people’s problems today. I need to step outside. Me Imperturbe was a calling card to me to get out of my own head. To forget my own personal experience in everything that divides us right now, and believe me, I have endured no small measure of personal angst over the dealings of our nation; aplomb in the midst of irrational things. To understand the feebleness of my privileged struggle; Finding my occupation, poverty, notoriety, foibles, crimes less important than I thought. And; To confront night, storms, hunger, ridicule, accidents, rebuffs as the trees and animals do. Simply by…stepping outside.
Stepping outside brings God’s peace on us all. We need to step into his creation, and out of our own. Walk the hills formed by his hands, and humble ourselves enough to realize those same hands molded our own heart, and more importantly ‘theirs.’ Look at those others and say to ourselves that if God could raise that tree from a tiny seedling, he too can raise me and my brothers to know and live in the same Truth. I need to step outside. We need to step outside. Remind ourselves of the grace that has been given to us, and turn around to bestow the knowledge of that grace on everyone else. Stop denying our own salt and light and continue to use it for the reason we were given it; for the Kingdom. Stop denying others the opportunity to use their salt and light. Allow them to use it without corroding or damaging us, and use ours in ways that it won’t corrode or damage them. We will never become a unified nation if we continue to let ourselves see each other as others.
“We are more alike my friends,
than we are unalike.
We are more alike my friends,
than we are unalike.”
Consider the Word
Matthew 5:13-16 What is your salt and light? What have you been denying God the use of, to further his Kingdom? What have you been hiding under a basket that he needs you to open up?
1st and 2nd Corinthians Paul was the captain of taking the Word of God to people that had no idea who God even was. He was the first apostle to be charged by Christ with the mission of bringing the gospel to the Gentiles-the epitome of ‘others’ in the Jewish world. Many of his letters to his new churches are full of love and grace for a people just learning what it means to be a Christian. I urge you to spend time in them. Weather you are a new Christian, a seasoned one, or a newly awakened one, Paul’s letters will fill you with great encouragement from our Lord for our own division, as well as a love for everyone ‘other’ than ourselves.
Questions and Reflections
Artists-this is your charge. It’s time to get to work. Art influences the soul in ways that logic and reason will never conquer. Writers get out your pen, dancers, musicians, painters get into the studio, photographers get behind the lens, actors take on roles you have never dreamed of. Walt turned an entire sect of art into a tool to open minds. Are you the next Walt that God is waiting to use?
What part of this world brings you the peace and passion that nature brings Walt in Me Imperturbe? Find it. Use it. Find your own ‘Imperturbe.’ Let God use it to get you outside of your own mind, considering ideas that are different than yours.