Friday, June 28, 2013

Surprised by Hope

This morning, our deacon preached on how today's readings bespeak hope. He talked about how we all have dead places in us, like Abraham and Sarah who were too old to have children, like the leper who was not only terminally ill but cut off from the community. These "point of no return" places leave us with no hope for change. The only exception is if there is divine intervention.

Divine intervention is all over Scripture.

And it isn't about people magically getting their wishes, or attitude adjustment that merely sees good in a bad situation.

Divine intervention is about making the impossible possible. Christianity is divine intervention in the human race, making it possible for all of us broken, sinful, self-absorbed human beings to come into union with the creative, holy, self-donating Love that is God -- and to live there, as apprentices, and eventually as masters. All by His gift, offered by Him and awaiting our response.

That mention of the hopeless case of Abraham and Sarah's infertility struck home. Deacon Steve referred to how hopelessness sometimes has to reach utter despair and desperation before it flings itself out with a request like the one made to Jesus today, "Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean." It is the acknowledgment of our own utter powerlessness to change ourselves. I want to be clean, but I have no power to make it happen.

With my own flesh and blood I've written my own story of fading hope and utter despair when it comes to infertility. There's a struggle with one's very purpose, one's sense of worthiness of blessing, of fulfillment. Sometimes there is much grinding that occurs before even being blessed with a sense of climax of reaching desperation, if you know what I mean. I've experienced this in other aspects of life as well. It really is a blessing to reach a breaking point, even though it doesn't feel like it at the time. It's like the blessed release of death. On the other side there is acceptance, learning, and a new kind of life-giving potential. But none of that is evident for some time, only pain.

(I don't wonder that folks sometimes want that breaking point so badly that they make our daily sagging hope worse than it might otherwise be. Like Redd Foxx on Sanford and Son, they are constantly proclaiming, "This is the big one!" A breaking point is a gift of grace, not something we can conjure for ourselves. We need to be patient with the suffering of each day, in all its painful hum drum, hard work, lack of glory.)

I realized today that one result in having written these stories of despair in my own life is that hope strikes me as a demand of reality. My daughter is a concrete person whom I can touch. I am bound, obligated, by my experience of God to hope in the face of these other situations where I have experienced hopelessness. Life is not random. God speaks through everything I experience, and He is not haphazard in His lessons. He is not teaching me to rely on some magical power by which I satiate my passing pleasures. He is teaching me to live in union with Him, which is ultimate, cosmic happiness. That entails laying aside the penultimate for the ultimate, and of course learning to discern between the two in the nitty gritty of daily life.

I discovered hope, in its deep green vigor, like a surprise in my life. Just as the plants in my garden are practically doubling in size over the course of a few days, all of a sudden I realize how powerfully hope has gripped my life.

That really is quite marvelous.

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