by the Rev. Bob Olsen
The title of my article comes from the Movie Bridge of Spies, that Sandy and I watched one Saturday evening during Lent. The story is based on a true story, the negations by lawyer James Donovan (played by Tom Hanks) for the release of U-2 pilot Frances Gary Powers for the Soviet KGB spy Colonel Rudolf Abel. Donovan’s first contact with Abel was as his court appointed defense lawyer at Abel’s spy trial, then later on appeals and ultimately his exchange for Powers and return to Russia. Even at the time of the prisoner exchange Able did not know if he would be returning as a Soviet hero or arrested as an assumed double agent. Through all of this Abel stays calm as Donovan outlines the seriousness of the situation at each stage and pointing out the dire possibilities. Donovan asking Abel: “aren’t you concerned?”, “aren’t you worried?”, “aren’t you afraid?” And each time Able replies, “why, would it help if I were?”
I have no idea if these were real conversations, copied from James Donovan’s book, or part of the screen writer’s imagination, but they got me to thinking. During Lent we were to spend time in reflection and developing our relationship with God. In the Lenten materials from the Living Compass we were to develop our ability to listen as we encounter God, but first we have to quite all the distracting noise in our lives. During such reflection I couldn’t help but think of a hymn we sing at the 9 a.m. service, based on Isaiah 43, “Fear not for I have redeemed you.”
As my contemplations often do, I found it interesting that it was the “Godless Commie” (one of many epitaphs used by characters in the movie to describe Colonel Abel) who was able to face adversity: possible execution; a 30 year sentence in jail at age 57; and finally the return to a country that was as likely to arrest him as welcome him. I wondered where such calm came from. First not worrying about what might happen and second accepting the realities of his situation with continued calmness. Somehow his character recognizes that worrying about the “what if’s” and the “what is” won’t change anything.
While we are no longer in Lent, it doesn’t mean our spiritual journey stops. A journey which if we let it, allows us to calmly face the ups and downs of life, secure in the knowledge that through God’s boundless grace we are beloved and need not be in fear, nor worry. Had the season of Epiphany been longer we would have heard on the eight Sunday from Matthew’s Gospel: “…do not be worried about your life…Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” (Matt 6:25-27). Jesus tells us not to be afraid, nor to worry, rather we are to seek first God’s kingdom. Good advice when we are bombarded by voices all around us screaming that things have gone too far, not far enough or need to go in any of a 100 different directions.
So many things to worry about if we let ourselves, all the potential “if’s” and then in most cases problems which could be classified as “first world problems.” A phrase the morning talk show guys talked about after hearing it from their high school aged kids when describing something that had happened. Again with taking time during lent, I’ve realized that the majority of my “problems” are problems that most people in the world would be glad if that was their only problem.
All of this draws me back to the Holy Week message that Jesus sacrifice on the cross was to redeem us and all we need do is love God and our neighbors, that worrying won’t change anything and only distracts us from that love.
Trusting in God’s grace and secure in our knowledge of God boundless love for us, a love we can rely upon. When we are asked “aren’t you worried?” we can reply like Comrade Abel, “Why, would it help if I were?”