“Here’s what I’ve decided: the very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof. What I want is so simple I almost can’t say it: elementary kindness. Enough to eat, enough to go around. The possibility that kids might one day grow up to be neither the destroyers nor the destroyed. That’s about it. Right now I’m living in that hope, running down its hallways and touching the walls on both sides. I can’t tell you how good it feels.” ~Barbara Kingsolver
I’ve written several times about my struggles with hope, the way that I resist it, the way that it survives deep inside even when I think I’ve sacrificed it, the way it rises from its own ashes. For me, hope has long been both a painful struggle and a necessity, and the attempt to integrate those two aspects of it has not been a smooth road by any means.
“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.” ~Mary Oliver
I’ve always loved this quote because it’s taken me years to understand that the darkness in my own life is a gift. It often does not feel that way at the time, but it is a gift nevertheless. And recognizing it as such in the moment, even when I can’t see it, makes the darkness easier to bear.
“Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of countenance the heart is made glad. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” ~Ecclesiastes 7:3-4
We were discussing Biblical Wisdom Literature today in class, which includes the book of Ecclesiastes. In general, this book conveys a rather disillusioned and pessimistic view of the meaning of life, or the lack thereof. It was obvious from the class discussion that many people find this book disturbing, and I have my moments when I’d agree.
I also have plenty of times when I’m grateful for its inclusion in the canon because I find it comforting.
I recently read Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone’s book Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy. This is a book that I’d highly recommend to anyone who is concerned about the issues (ecological, economic, social) that are facing our world today. (Incidentally, it seems appropriate to be reviewing this on a night featuring a debate between the two main presidential candidates for this election.)
There is plenty of information available about the threats that we are facing globally today, and while the book touches on some of these issues, it is not its primary focus. It looks instead at why so few people seem to getting involved to try to make a difference. The authors propose that we tend to get stuck either in the mindset of refusing to believe that things are as bad as we hear so we should continue with business as usual or we believe that it is already too late to do anything to stop the coming crisis. Some of us (myself included) tend to waffle back and forth between these two positions. The problem is that neither one of these stories motivates us to action.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 (NRSV)
The word faith tends to be used in a number of different ways as is evident from the number of definitions for this word that appear in the dictionary. I tend to think of it in religious terms because that is most often where I hear it used, but it’s more than just religious belief. Even the verse quoted above does not limit faith to only religious topics.
I just arrived home rather later than expected from a meeting of Friends (Quakers) at a friend’s house. This is one of those promising avenues for me for the possibility of finding community. We meet every other Sunday evening for a time of unprogrammed worship followed by food and conversation. (For those unfamiliar with Quaker worship, unprogrammed means that we sit together in silence until someone feels led to speak out of the silence. Sometimes we may be silent the whole time, sometimes many share their thoughts as they feel led.)
This is the third time that I’ve joined them, and the group has been different every time I’ve gone. But I feel seen there. In the midst of my struggles with this question of feeling invisible, it was a balm to my heart to be there tonight.
I was talking on the phone a couple of nights ago to a friend whom I haven’t talked to in a while. We were doing the usual catching up on news when he asked me how I was. I gave the usual “Oh, I’m fine” response, but he persisted. “Are you happy?” he asked, and he really wanted to know. I stopped and thought for just a moment and discovered that I could truthfully say that I am. I am happy.
It felt good to acknowledge that. The last week or two has been filled with a lot of good things—from some significant amounts of rain (finally! yay!) to kind gestures from several friends to a few bits of unexpected good news trickling in here and there. I have several areas in my life that are in the midst of change or the beginnings of new things that all are looking very promising. It feels really good to be able to sit back and see so many blessings sprinkling in throughout all different areas of my life.
I am happy in a calm, contented kind of way. I am also feeling quite hopeful that these changes and new possibilities will bring additional good things my way. And I’m noticing that this brings up resistance in me. Hope has not always been a good thing for me. It’s a fragile little bird that is all too easily crushed.
Someone asked me this question today in the context of a getting-to-know-you conversation, skipping right past all of the usual what-do-you-do, where-are-you-from, what-are-your-hobbies kind of questions right to this one. It made me stop and think.
What does define me? I don’t think anyone has ever asked me that before.
Have you ever had one of those times when you’ve struggled and struggled and struggled to solve some problem, and when the answer finally appears, it’s so obvious that you can’t believe you didn’t see it before?
Yeah, me too. I had one of those moments yesterday. I’m thrilled to have an answer, but my initial reaction was still to say, “Well, DUH!”
You see, I’ve been struggling for a couple of years now to figure out what exactly it is that I want to do with my life. I have all of these disparate interests—writing, yoga, working with people one-on-one in some kind of coaching/spiritual direction/pastoral care/counseling role, perhaps some public teaching or speaking—but I haven’t been able to find the thread that tied all of these things together to form a cohesive whole. I knew without a doubt that this thread existed. I could feel it, but I couldn’t name it.
I was in the mood tonight for some feel-good fiction. I chose a book that’s been sitting on my to-be-read shelf for quite some time and discovered that it had a deeper message for me than I was expecting. The book I chose was Twenty Wishes by Debbie Macomber. The basic premise of the novel is that a group of four widows gets together one Valentine’s Day and wind up deciding to each make a list of twenty wishes of things they want to have or experience in life as a means of helping them move beyond their grief. Not only do the four women wind up changing a great deal through the process of making the lists and working toward their wishes, they also inspire people around them to try to the same exercise whenever people hear about their idea.
I came away from the book inspired by the idea of making my own list of twenty wishes. The only stipulation the women in the book made about their wishes was that the wishes could not be things they thought they “should” do (like exercise more or go to the dentist). These wishes were about adding joy and possibility to life, not doing chores.