Message of Hope: All Shall Be Well

Rev. Kimberly Quinn Johnson.

Rev. Kimberly Quinn Johnson.

By Reverend Kimberly Quinn Johnson of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork 

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Those words are a prayer written by 14th century mystic, Julian of Norwich. In trying times, I find these words to be a source of great comfort. Yet, there was a time in my life when I would have said that sentiments such as these embody the worst of religion. In the face of so much despair in the world, how can we simply rest in the notion that all shall be well? How will it be well? Who will make it well?

This year has shown some of the worst of what the world has to offer. We have just been through the most divisive and contentious campaign that I can remember—startling in the coarseness of its rhetoric. This year has seen mass terrorist attacks in Nice and Brussels; mass shootings in Orlando and California; bombings in Turkey and Pakistan; murder of police officers in Dallas, Baton Rouge, and Iowa; and too many killings of Black men and women by the officers entrusted with their safety. Even as we remain at war with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and ISIL, we are witnessing the ravaging of Syria, with millions of people internally displaced and even more displaced as refugees abroad. Add to that our uncertainty about the future of this planet amongst the challenges of global warming.

Our natural twin responses to the awareness of all that is wrong with the world can be to turn inward, or to lash outward. Our reptilian brain—that tiny part at the base of our skulls which has been responsible for our basic survival— reacts to fear and anxiety with an instinct of fight, flight, or freeze. In freezing, we can get stuck in our negative thoughts and perceptions of the world and its prospects. In flight, our instinct is to run away from the scary things—to turn inward from the world. In the face of so much beyond our control, to close ranks and grasp for those things that we can control. In fight, we are urged to lash out. We draw lines and heighten boundaries between ourselves and others. In all of these reactions, our concern is for our own survival.

But we as a people have evolved far beyond the need to be ruled by concern for our own survival. As evolved people, we have different resources available to us. And because I am a person of faith, I turn to our spiritual resources. If our instinctive reaction to uncertainty and fear is to protect our own survival, our spiritual response to uncertainty and fear is to turn outward—not in fear, but in love. We can respond to uncertainty and fear with wisdom, compassion, and faith.

By wisdom, I mean that we can understand hope as our desire for the future based on our experience of the past. We have all been through difficult times in our past. In our families and our personal lives, we may have an experience of suffering from addiction, illness, or abuse. And while these experiences sometimes don’t turn out the way we would like for them to, they teach us how to endure. Wisdom is a way of learning from our pasts—both our limits and our possibilities. Wisdom is an openness to new insights and creativity.

Compassion is our hearts’ greatest response to suffering. Compassion turns concern for our selves and our individual survival outward to a concern for another. For some, our compassion stems from a sense that we are each beloved children of God. Compassion is a way that we can be the human expressions of God’s love in the world. For others, our compassion flows from a recognition of the ways that we are all interconnected—that our destinies are bound, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said—in an inescapable network of mutuality.

And finally faith. Faith is our soul’s response to uncertainty. Faith requires us to relinquish the illusion of control. This is not the same as abnegating responsibility for the care of the world. Just the opposite, a faith this large challenges us to do what we can to use our wisdom to spread compassion—because someone is counting on us. Faith invites us to put our trust in something beyond our individual selves. For some this is God, for others this is the order of the universe, for others this is humanity itself. However we understand the ultimate power of the universe, faith reassures us that though the universe is beyond my control, there is a divine or human love that will not let us go.

I find great comfort in the words of the mystic Julian of Norwich because I see the workings all around me. I find great comfort in the words of the mystic Julian of Norwich when I am an active expression of God’s love in the world. I need not be able to fully answer the “how” of it, to know the truth of it.

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”


Share This!