By Rev. Dr. Bob Newell, PORTA Advisory Council
Bill Moyers has a way of asking questions. They are often not obvious questions, usually not questions that others are asking and rarely questions for which knee-jerk, thoughtless responses will suffice. One such penetrating, reflection-inspiring, soulsearching query was asked by the east Texas Baptist, whose life’s impact has extended far beyond both of those starting places happened in a dialogue on Moyers’ public television series, Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth. Moyers put this to Campbell: “Do you ever have the sense of … being helped by hidden hands?”
Campbell affectionately responded, “All the time.” Today, I dare to join the conversation between Moyers and Campbell with the simplest, first stirrings of my own authentic answer: “Yes!” Indeed, at my most honest, I am convinced that my life profoundly rests in hidden hands. So much has happened to me that, given both the good and bad of it, I can only explain by reference to some mysterious, other than reality which, in its essence, is partially revealed, yet largely hidden from both my conscious consideration and my complete comprehension. There are forces in life, over which I am largely powerless and from within which the pen-ultimate inquiries and feeble responses of my life are expressed. These have shaped much of my destiny, profoundly molded me and, as Moyers suggests, have also served, in the end, to help me.
Although some might insist that these hidden energies are totally nefarious and out to do me absolute and permanent harm, my sense is that there is a judicious mixture of forces in my experience, which hold the purpose and potential of two opposing outcomes; some hidden hands have sought, in the short-run, to harm me and others have sought, in the larger picture, to help. Those which seek to help, I like to call good. And those which seek to harm, I call evil.
Among many other things, it is this powerful, existential reality which, in the simplest and most hopeful terms, we have sought to communicate to Albanian immigrants in Athens, Greece through PORTA – the Albania House in Athens. While many of our Albanian friends have brutal experience with the reality that their lives are in someone else’s hands, it is sometimes difficult for them to realize that these are helpful hands. So much has happened to them – usually from the hands of others - that has been hurtful. It is so easy for Albanians (and all of us, for that matter) to conclude that the forces are against us.
And, to be honest, in the real world there surely are hidden forces that are opposed to our hope, health and happiness. But, that is not the entire story, especially as understood from the perspective of what almighty God has done and continues to do through Jesus Christ. Indeed, as Moyers and Campbell attest, in the end the hidden hands are helpful hands. As the followers of Jesus have come to understand, there is a more powerful set of hands which ultimately are even at work in the presence of other, evil hands. The hands that willingly took the piercing and pain of the nails on a cruel cross are the same hands that rolled away the stone on that first resurrection morning. Indeed, as the Apostle Paul said, years ago: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”
At this time of the year, we in the west find ourselves in the immediate aftermath of an angry political debate, the divisive process of which has disheartened most and the political outcome of which has disappointed many. Somewhat ironically, we are also inclined, by calendar traditions, toward a celebration of thankfulness. At this somewhat awkward juncture, let us remember the helping hands. Let us join hands in worship, “giving a hand” to the One whose hands in human form took the hurt in order to help us. “Place your hand in the hand of the man who stilled the water.” Will you also join us in giving a helpful “hand-up” to those whose lives seem to have been largely in hurtful hands? “I see that hand! God bless you!”