In the movie Raya and the Last Dragon, the plucky warrior princess sets off to retrieve the shards of a dragon gem in order to restore the shattered land of Kumandra. She’s propelled by determination—but also by disillusionment, resentment, and grief. Betrayal by a friend has unleashed the sinister Druun, a chaotic, plague-like force that turns her father and the rest of her people into stone. She must leave her tribe, named Heart, to find the gem pieces. Then she will return.
The theme for many of us this year is “return.” Not that we thought this theme would last so long. At the beginning of the year, returning seemed like an event. Dates were set, and trips were booked. Organizations crafted return plans for workers. Businesses hoped customers would come back. “Back to school” took on extra meaning. Churches made plans to worship and sing and study together.
We all remembered life before the pandemic and longed to find out what “post-pandemic” would look like. But chaos continues with illness and death, and also division and calamity. The return hasn’t happened yet.
If returning is a long process rather than a date on the calendar, what does that mean? And, if we recognize that we can’t go back to the past, what are we returning to?
The Hebrew word teshuvah means returning. It also means repenting. This repentance is about confessing one’s shortcomings, yes, but also about turning back to God. It’s returning to the path of righteousness. It’s returning to each other.
Plot spoiler: Raya’s story has a happy ending. When the situation turns dire, she recognizes her complicity, makes a selfless act of repentance, and eventually sets into motion what might be described as resurrection. Her ragtag helpers are reunited with the family members they had lost. Raya returns to Heart and brings about her father’s vision of a united land. All the tribes rejoice.
The process of returning seems slow, but while we wait we can spend our time turning toward wholeness. Teshuvah. Now is always the right season for returning to God and to each other.
Wendy McFadden is publisher of Brethren Press and Communications for the Church of the Brethren.