Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wanting the Polaroids

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to have hope, largely because a friend has so little of it right now in his life. The future doesn’t look good at all. A lot of the time, when we talk about his prospects, I’m at a loss for what to say that might offer comfort or help. What’s happening now is fine. It’s what may come to him—or may not come—down the road that’s sucking the blood out of life here and now, like some motherfucker demon that gets more and more powerful, the more fear it sees it can generate in us. At times like this, seeing what my friend is suffering, I can only say, it’s the future that kills us. It's longing for reassurance that everything will work out, and dread that it won't, that often pull our attention away from the blessings present in our lives today.

If he and I were on non-theistic paths, and God or the gods were irrelevant to us—if, for instance, we were Buddhists—it might be easier just to say that hope is beside the point; or even that hope is a toxic distraction, an enticing indulgence like absinthe that makes everything burn a little brighter for a while, and then slams you with the worst hangover of your life.

But my friend and I are both committed to the use of "God language," however tentative we may sometimes be about it. We're both given over to a faith in a You to whom we respond, by whom we're held in loving embrace, in whom we're comprehended. Sometimes that faith is little more than wanting to believe. At other times, it breaks into our lives by direct experience, like something we could never have expected, never could have asked or imagined, never could have bargained on. At times like those, we're confirmed in a trust that all will be well--and reminded that we have no idea in advance what that wellness will turn out to look like.

In the Christian Gospels, people have an odd way of not recognizing the resurrected Lord. They think he's the gardener, or a stranger on the road to Emmaus, or some random walker on the beach. They only twig when they can let go of their expectations, and of their dread.

In the face of uncertainty, we long for certainty. We want an infallible description in advance of what's in store for us. We want polaroids of the final destination, and GoogleMaps directions on how to get there. Instead of trust in a Person, we want knowledge of a thing. It's not hope that deceives us, but our habit of confusing hope with self-confidence.

We're in blessed luck: we don't get what we bargained on. We hang onto hope. The ongoing struggle--always in process, always a challenge, always an invitation--is to let go of our desire for the polaroids.

1 comment:

  1. David-
    thanks, as usual, you speak for many of us. It's especially apt, of course, as we begin Advent this week, the Season of hope. I saw "Life of Pi" this week (haven't read the book) but he relies on hope to endure his journey. The mantra he gets from the life raft survival manual, "Above all, never lose hope." serves him and us well. I believe we can fuel that hope by those various practices that keep us in union with that indwelling Spirit that is within all of us. The challenge remains actually doing those practices. thanks again for your insights...