Texts: “Invincible Summer” by Albert Camus * Philippians 2:1-3 (adopting the mind of Christ)
Fall arrived on Tuesday morning, and I’m glad it has begun with sunshine and warmth. I enjoy all the seasons – the white expanses of snow in winter; the greening promise of spring; the languid heat and fruitfulness of summer; and the soulful colours of fall. But this year, I have not been looking forward to fall and winter.
Canada’s governments outside of the four Atlantic provinces and the three northern territories have not been able to contain COVID-19; and so we are entering the darker and colder months with continued restrictions, continued economic crisis, and the continued spread of disease.
This summer when I realized that Alberta — unlike Atlantic Canada and much of East Asia — was not going to contain COVID-19, I tried to soak up as much sun and heat as possible. In this way, if we were still not singing in choirs, still not travelling to Mexico, and still closely watching the daily count of new COVID-19 cases in February, I could warm my spirit with memories of summer.
This idea reminded me of the poem “Invincible Summer” attributed to Albert Camus. Last week, I couldn’t pin down whether Camus actually wrote it or whether the phrase “invincible summer” that he used in a short story inspired someone else to write it. But I love its imagery.
The poem suggests that even if we find ourselves grieving the losses associated with the pandemic, we can find within us an invincible smile. Even if this fall sees the consolidation of the power of a racist and sexist bully in the United States, we can find within us an invincible love. Even if the chaos of cultural division and economic crisis spreads, we can find within us an invincible calm. And even if the darkness and cold of the winter oppresses our spirits, we can find within us an invincible summer.
These seem like encouraging thoughts, but are they true?
I turn to our second reading from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi to reflect on this question. Paul urges his readers to adopt the extreme humility of Jesus who empties himself and is humbled by death on a cross.
Paul’s message is supposed to be inspiring. But inspiration is normally associated with pride, power, and ambition and not humility. A coach tries to inspire their players to channel aggression toward victory over another team. A CEO tries to inspire their employees to pay ruthless attention to the bottom line as they compete against rival firms. A national leader tries to inspire their citizens to rally to the flag in military conflict with another country.
Paul’s focus on humility is counter-cultural. Like Jesus, he suggests the way to victory is through defeat; the way to new life is by dying to an old way of life; and the way to eternity is through death. I believe this message is always relevant, but never more so than in times of personal or social crisis.
In confronting our personal fragility and mortality, we are humbled. In realizing that governments cannot contain an airborne virus, we are humbled. In confronting the reality that millions of people worship ignorant strongmen, we are humbled.
This humble status presents us with three options: we can ignore tough realities and so live in a fantasy; we can feel ashamed of our personal and social humiliations and so hobble our ability to live with joy; or we can accept our humble status along with the Grace to fall into a Christ-like humility. It is the latter that Paul recommends.
Life inevitably humbles us. But accepting our humble reality does not mean giving up. Jesus knows his movement will be “defeated.” Nevertheless, he continues to preach the realm of God, to heal the sick, and to stand up to imperial elites who want to keep poor people oppressed.
It is similar for us. Even though we can’t stave off aging and death, we can take care of ourselves as best we know how. Even though we can’t be sure governments will listen to us, we can advocate they adopt best practices from regions that have contained COVID-19. Even though we can do little to effect the vote in the USA, we can wish the U.S. President is swamped by such a landslide in November that he is forced to hand over power in January despite his stated intention to not do so.
I don’t imagine this fall and winter will bring everything I want, whether in terms of COVID-19, the American elections, or the weather in Alberta. I will be surprised but pleased if COVID is eliminated in the six provinces where it is still spreading. I will be happy if there is a peaceful transition to a new U.S. President in January. I will be glad if the winter is exceptionally sunny and warm in Edmonton.
But regardless of “success” or “failure” on any of these fronts, our connection to humanity, to life, and to the cosmos remains.
Or at least, that is the theory. This coming winter may put it to the test, at least for me. But is this not always the case? Every community and individual has to grapple with moments of loss and defeat. In such moments, we may wonder where the Spirit of Love might be leading in this difficult moment.
I believe it is breathing into our hearts an awareness that in times of both loss and gain our Soul stands in its eternal and unshakeable loveliness. It is reminding us that even in the darkest and coldest nights of winter, we can touch base with an invincible summer and know that Love is all and Love is everything.
May it be so. Amen.