It is a very thin line between secular and sacred. In fact, there need not be anything at all separating them. If you have read even a few posts from subversivepreacher, then you know I am all about pointing to the sacred hiding in plain sight.
Sometimes my weekly newspaper column, by nature secular, is a reformatted version of the Sunday sermon. The process of reducing two-thousand words down to the prescribed five-hundred words can be embarrassingly easy, while other times it is a fierce struggle. But either way, jettisoning theological mumbo- jumbo in favor of unpacking the sacred as it appears in the midst of the ordinary, is always worthwhile. What follows is precisely that, presenting what I offered on Sunday for the Denim Spirit newspaper column on Wednesday.
“Snow,” a wonderful Anne Sexton poem, ends:
”There is hope everywhere. Today God gives milk
and I have the pail.”
That is a bold and even jarring declaration for the end of December as we teeter on the precipice of a worsening pandemic, questionable economy, and free-for-all political culture. Yet in the spiritual tradition to which I am rooted hope is the mother’s milk of the holy.
Still, this is a hard time to be hopeful for many people, so let’s not deny the real struggles sewn into this time of year. With a variety of holidays being celebrated and a low ceiling of gray clouds idling overhead, I can hear the grimacing undertone in voices around me stealing against sadness, sorrow, or depression. The mid-winter holidays and New Year’s Eve are not magic pills that neatly wipe away every tear. So let’s just name it and recognize the struggle.
At the same time, some people are like cats the way they land gingerly on their feet no matter where they fall from or how they stumble. Whereas I land in an ungainly sprawl, those perpetually upbeat folks I know move through tough times like a feather through air. They surely rumble inside like everyone else, but on the outside are graceful as they navigate this social isolation and our hazardous political and economic matrix. Yet in either case – fluid or spasmodic – hope is not the cause nor is it the palliative. Hope is a whole different category.
I wrote about a different dimension of hope the first week of December and it is worth hovering over again right about now. Hope is not wishful thinking. Wishful thinking is the formulation and anticipation of a specific outcome. Such desired outcomes are invariably favorable to us, and not surprisingly, what we think should happen.
Authentic hope, on the other hand, is less outcome-focused because it recognizes that with anything that truly matters, we do not get to know the outcome ahead of time. In fact, the outcomes we can imagine are far too limited. Hope recognizes and accepts our vulnerability while wishful thinking is a way to comfort ourselves when we have no control. It pulls the wool over our eyes so we feel warm and safe believing in a happy wish.
Hope, instead, is an act of faith. Hope is a trust-fall into the arms of God. Hope does not require denial or complacency and instead, invites our best efforts to shape the future even without knowing the outcome. Hope enters the struggle to change the things that can be changed, and embraces the acceptance of what cannot be changed.
In all of it, hope is the thing that surrounds and imbues us. Hope empowers us to keep moving through it – so that we do not give into cynicism, resign ourselves to complacency, or drown ourselves in the abuse of mind-altering substances or the horrendous misuse of people and money.
Hope is not physical, emotional, or mental. Rather, it is a lens through which we choose to see. When we see what is going on through the lens of hope then we can keep going, keep doing, keep reaching out, and trying. It is a super power for mortals.