08/27/2014 12:54 pm ET Updated Oct 27, 2014

Faith for In-Between Times

In Minnesota, this is an in-between time. Summer is over, the pool is closed, but it isn't quite fall yet. We know what was, and what is coming. There is something awkward about it, a sense of displacement.

We aren't comfortable with such empty, undefined spaces. This kind of discomfort is playing out right now in the discussion over events in Ferguson, Missouri, where 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot by a police officer. We are in this space between the tragedy of the killing and the announcement of an indictment (or failure of an indictment). As Ron Fournier pointed out in a great National Journal piece, there are some things we know (that the police are militarized, and that Brown was shot six times) but a lot that we don't know. In that in-between space we are deluged with conflicting reports and passions. We don't yet have a complete or authoritative report or picture of events, just a space that we have filled up with theories and reaction. It can be a toxic place.

Within the Christian faith, there is a wealth of wisdom to inform us about how to deal with these in-between times. One, of course, is the example of Christ. Like us, he lived through those periods where he knew what was and what was still to be, and he faced those in-between times with something revolutionary: Quiet. In the book of Mark alone, he retreats at least nine times, leaving behind the crowds that followed him. Immediately after his baptism, but before his ministry, he retreats for forty days to the wilderness. Mark says that during this time of quiet, "the angels waited on him." Later, he is followed by a "multitude" to the seaside; the crowds grew so great that he told people to have a boat ready so he would not be crushed. Shortly thereafter, he appoints the twelve apostles... but between these two events, he retreats to a mountain. Even before his death, knowing it was coming, he sought out a place of quiet--the Garden of Gethsemane.

The virtues required for in-between times are the humblest and hardest of all: patience, restraint, and open-mindedness. The human urge to fill up silence is remarkable, after all. When I was a prosecutor, we relied on that urge, because suspects would fill up a silence with either confession or a false exculpatory story. Few of us have the discipline to remain truly quiet.

Of course, in-between times end. Jesus came out of the wilderness to preach, he called down from the mountain to his new disciples, and he left the garden to sacrifice his life in a public and transformative way. In-between times are much less than the whole, and that means that the quiet of those times does not take the place of righteous anger or truth-telling or necessary conflict. Rather, it precedes it.

I am the son of an artist, and because of that I visualize such moments. Think of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for example. We have iconic images of him in oratorical splendor, but also in deep reflection. Abraham Lincoln, too, is pictured as a man of action, but also one of intense quiet. These are not bifurcations of the spirit; rather these two moments are connected, deeply, in our best heroes. The public inspiration comes after the quiet, and without one, there would not be the other. We need both, and the world provides us with opportunities for both. We should not disdain the in-between time, but fill it with grace and warmth.