Faith, Hope and Love in Advent
I’m contemplating faith, hope and love, during this Advent season.
Too many days lately, the world feels like a terribly unstable place, continually shifting and keeping me off balance. Just when I feel like I’ve achieved a small sense of stability, the ground moves again, and I find that things are happening of which I have been naively unaware or subliminally dreading. I have multiple stresses at the moment – none of them sufficiently large enough to be a crisis on its own, but, when gathered up, still enough to make a stinking heap of stress. On all fronts there are challenges: at work, at church, at home (school issues!), all of them things which hurt my heart, push my buttons, or send me into fits of black frustration but about which I can do very little, and against which I have very little real power. The life feels drained out of me, and I’m left with an after-taste of bitter frustration and anger with myself and others – a seething disappointment.
Some days, I feel as if I’ve been given a spoon and installed at the base of Mt. Everest with a pat to my head and a sly smile. “Have at it!” Yeah, right.
I’ve been praying for, looking for a renewal of faith, hope and love, (especially hope) and finding instead, broken, corrupted and imperfect humanity in abundance, including, and most especially my own, which is of course most troublesome to me.
I’m angry. And frustrated. And bitter. I’m losing my sense of personal empowerment, and wondering what the ultimate point might be anyway. What good is being one little candle flame, flickering in a massive wind tunnel? I feel so keenly the impact of hypocrisy and self-righteous judgmental indignation, especially my own. I am paralyzed in the light of my utter ineffectual impact on the world in which I live and move. I’ve been slogging through the days, feeling mired and encased by the weight of my numerous, albeit mostly trifling, problems. (Yes – I do that this is self-pity.)
So, I’ve been praying. I’ve been contemplating evil, and the role of self-doubt and the insidious nature of despair as powerful partners for evil, and trying to fight it off, with admittedly far too little success as of late.
I came across this quote this morning in an article in the New York Times about an 81 year old woman who became a devoted hospice worker after the untimely death of her own adult daughter, who was her best friend. She says in the article that she is not religious, especially after loosing a child, but that she believes in “kindness” and “the golden rule”. This woman has many inspirational quotes pasted up all over her kitchen cabinets, and proudly read this one to the interviewer:
“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places,” Ernest Hemingway
For some reason, it spoke to me. Loudly. Like, “Look Eileen, there is a message in there for you. A lesson. A nugget of truth.” The brokenness is the key, I think. It’s where the Hidden Holy can leak out, if I’m smart enough to get the hell out of the way, and let it.
This quote, and the quotation below, from William Countryman’s book Living on the Border of the Holy: Renewing the Priesthood of Us All were little bits of light dropped into my path in response to my prayers and my struggles. I am not in control – it’s above my pay grade, and I’ll have to just suck it up and get used to that fact all over again. Instead, I need to remember to have faith that God is always moving toward God’s ultimate purpose, and that I am called to live in hopeful expectation that all shall be well and as God intends, because, ultimately, God loves us. All of us. Even those with whom I am especially angry, bitter toward or feeling self-righteous indignation toward, because God loves them and made them, too, and like me, they are ultimately part of God’s purpose.
I’m feeling a tiny spark of hope, and I thought I’d share it.
Hope is a kind of courage in the midst of the unknown. In the words of an able theologian and preacher: “Gospel expectancy means living without fear and with great hope. It means we live on the edge of things where things are not completely settled. So it’s where we can think imaginatively, act creatively, and love boldly because we don’t have to be afraid that GOD is watching us to make sure we’re getting it right. The only way we couldn’t get it right is not to act at all…Certainly, we’re going to make mistakes…But the freedom of the Gospel is the freedom to live without fear, and that means taking risks.”
Jay Johnson, quoted in L. William Countryman’s Living on the Border of the Holy, p. 185
It is my hope that these words will offer to those of you who need it some of the comfort they offered me, and help ease the knots that may be in your soul, as they have eased them in mine. And in so doing, may I have taken up my place in God’s purpose for you today, as those who wrote these words have taken up God’s purpose with me.
I leave you with Christ’s own words:
“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” (John 14:27) Amen.