This winter was hard on the spirit, even before Haiti

Gordon Stewart
Gordon C. Stewart is a Presbyterian minister.
Submitted photo

I want to help with Haiti, but I feel so useless. My few dollars won't even begin to make a dent. I want to withdraw, pull the covers over my head, and make the world go away.

I've been doing that for the last month or so. It's been cold. According to Mike, the owner of the Dunn Brothers where I go for coffee, it's not just me. Business is down. Folks have been staying home since before Christmas. "I'm from Duluth," says Mike. "Geez, we're Minnesotans. Put a hat on!"

Our withdrawal is more than physical hibernation. A little cold doesn't stop Minnesotans from going to the coffee shop for a hot cup of coffee, unless the cold has gotten inside us. We withdraw when our insides are chilled to the bone. We hibernate when we're feeling down.

I was already feeling that way before the news of Haiti hit -- discouraged and more than a little bit anxious, insecure. In a word, weary. Then I remembered that I was weary a year ago at this same time, but I saw some light ahead. A new president was getting ready to take the oath of office. Change was on the horizon.

One year later the things that haven't changed outweigh the things that have. News of failed security at a White House state dinner, a terrorist slipping through airport security, the suicide bombing at CIA headquarters on the front lines of a war that has no good conclusion -- the news is grim, and I feel down and a little bit angry (as Nancy Pelosi said recently, "Lots of things are said on the campaign trail") and more than a little insecure. It feels like we're all on the same plane and that we're all going down, no matter what we do.

Then comes the latest news from Haiti and I have no good alternative to the perspective I left behind years ago -- that "God's in his heaven; all's right with the world." We are surrounded by the absurd in which the poorest get even poorer, the hungry even hungrier, the homeless, even more homeless. Nothing I can do will make a difference to the people in Haiti.

It is into this cold, dark hibernation that an e-mail bursts into my den from my old roommate, Wayne. "Epiphany Gift," it says, referring to the celebration of light on the Christian calendar. I open Wayne's Epiphany e-mail: an article called "The Waiting Room."

The piece ends with the words of J.C. and C.F. Blumhardt, two German pastors long remembered for their pioneering work with patients in a psychiatric hospital in the 19th century. "Our prayers," said the Blumharts, "are hammer-strokes against the bulwarks of ... darkness; they must be oft repeated. Many years can pass by, even a number of generations die away, before a breakthrough occurs. However, not a single hit is wasted; and if they are continued, then even the most secure wall must finally fall. Then the glory of God will have a clear path upon which to stride forth with healing and blessing for the wasted fields of mankind."

Outside my window the sky is gray, snow is falling again, and the temperature is bone-chilling, but I'm lighter and warmer inside. When I finish these hammer-strokes for MPR, I'll go online to the Red Cross web site, give as much as my credit card can bear, place a few calls to city officials and friends to organize a benefit concert for Haitian relief, and go to the coffee shop for some coffee and some company.

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Gordon C. Stewart is pastor of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, a regular guest commentator on "All Things Considered," and moderator of the "Shepherd of the Hill Dialogues: examining critical public issues locally and globally."

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