December 21, 2021
I have been growing weary and discouraged. Not because I have too much Christmas stuff to do, or because the pace of life is too much, or because the days are the darkest of the season. I absolutely LOVE these days. In my current context and iteration of the circle of my life, December is full of everyday magic and wonder. I am living my best December life :)
My weariness is driven by a disillusionment, discouragement, and dismay about the “state of affairs”. The more I know (and seek to know) politically, socially, environmentally, and economically the more I feel despair tugging at my heals.
The last few years have been an incredible time of growing awareness for me of injustices; systemic societal problems; environmental disasters; and economic, social, and political inequity with regards to the state of the world.
I sometimes feel rather late to the game but I was raising babies and I was privileged to limit a lot of negative influences, for my own well-being and theirs. I endeavoured to create a different kind of reality in my home. And now my energies and intentions are moving out of the home and I'm allowing myself to see and know to a greater degree. (It wasn't like I was living in a cave, but I was careful with my media exposure.)
And then, in an apocalyptic fashion, the pandemic further revealed, amplified and concentrated this knowing. Additionally, I started grad school which is one big critique of the “system”. (I love critique and questioning of “how things are done”, so I’m loving that aspect, but I have opened myself to knowledge in ways I had previously been protecting myself from, and everything you know and learn, can’t be un-known.)
I’m growing weary in the knowing. And I am not alone.
Here we are, at Christmas.
So much of the Christian story and even the winter story is about hope for the future. My own expression of Christian faith does not find hope in a well-articulated vision of the afterlife. Which is to say, I have no idea what happens after we die, but I’m not holding out for Heaven, capital H. I’m also not holding out for another world, or a rescue from this one.
I come from a religious culture of rescue mindset. We were going to be rescued from all this. And if we died before rescue, as long as we believed the right things (that part was super important) we’d go to a better place than this. This is not a belief I carry anymore though I understand and honor the spiritual and psychological importance of these for the human spirit and psyche. Especially in times of hardship and oppression.
Will I return to these definitions of hope someday? That a rescue is coming? That once we die, our “realer” selves begin? I don’t know. Probably not. But I’m open to the possibilities. Spiritual belief is a journey and I really don’t know where mine will take me.
But just because I don’t have this particular type of hope, at this point in my life, doesn’t mean I don’t have hope and don’t cultivate hope.
In truth, I didn’t used to need hope, really, because I had certainty. And the loss of my religious certainty birthed a more true “faith” and “hope”.
I have faith that the arc of the universe bends towards Goodness, Truth, Freedom, Equality, Beauty, Justice, Belonging, and Love. The “kin-dom” and kingdom of God.
I understand that these words, that philosophers have sought to define for millennia, are inherently ambiguous terms, they do not carry universally agreed-upon definitions and they exist in cultural contexts.
This is problematic. But there is enough consensus among the core tenets of major world religions and within the human spirit, exhibited by how we care for our relations (the trick then is to expand the idea of relations), that I believe points in the general direction of the practices, if not the actual firm definitions, of these terms. That also, is a statement of faith.
My own upbringing and quest to define these terms has brought me to a place where I privilege a Jesus-inspired lens to define these personally, but I don’t hold this as an exclusive understanding of reality. And I want to exist in a world and in communities where we share our combined wisdom, spirit, and experience to create a multi-faceted, multicultural, multi-lensed way of understanding reality and defining these terms. That right there, that’s a statement of hope.
So I believe the arc of the big story bends to that which is good and true and lovely. And likewise, I believe the arc of our personal lives bend towards that outcome also.
It bends but it is not guaranteed. There is no certainty of this, only hope.
Experience tells us that some conditions will foster better outcomes in this regard.
So my faith in action is working towards creating those conditions. As far as I’m concerned, that should be the definition of all good work: the actions we take to bend the arc in a positive direction. In this way, we’re all activists.
But in order to act in a way that creates the conditions for Goodness, Truth, Freedom, Equality, Beauty, Justice, Belonging, and Love to flourish you have to first have hope these are possible realities.
You have to belief something is possible, whatever that “thing” is, in order to work towards its reality.
Faith for me is believing in this possibility in spite of what I see around me. Faith is believing in something I don’t experience in full measure. It’s believing in the possibility of the arc of the universe, even if in the moment I don’t see evidence.
What is faith in a virgin birth or a resurrection (or any other supernatural occurrences from other traditions and religions) if not a belief in what doesn’t seem humanly possible?
Here’s faith for me: I hope for a better future and I live in the present like that hope is a reality.
I have faith for something I don’t necessarily experience. Or that I experience in small measures but not in full. Those tastes of the Divine and Sublime (one in the same?) feed my faith.
Where do I get those tastes? I get them in my own actions or the actions of others. I get them in intentions and choosing to notice and see the world a certain way. The simple observation of a cardinal in my backyard this morning brings beauty to my day and into my heart, which causes me to seek more beauty, create more beauty, live more beauty.
The experience, observance, and intentions around of Love, Freedom, Equality, Goodness etc. have the power to do the same.
I have a hope for things I haven’t experienced, which is basically faith. But in order to experience them I have to embody those ideals in my actions. My actions are:
The better (or even just the good) doesn’t come into existence without the action. And the action needs a vision of good to upon which to bring it into existence.
Something I appreciate about the liturgical traditions of Christian practice is that they hold faith collectively. In the creeds and prayers there’s an emphasis on “we believe”. I grew up in a tradition with a very individualized understanding and expression of faith. You invited Jesus into your personal heart. It was a decision you made for yourself. It was carried in you, by you, and for you.
At some point we all make our own decisions about how to live, what to believe. We do it with the big story of our lives and in our daily choices. We make a personal choice of faith, so to speak. And my belief is that the world would be a more (all the good things) place if people were personally believing and living into the hope of these possibilities.
But I also recognize the importance of holding hope for others, like a liturgical church practice, when they can’t see it for themselves. And it doesn’t mean they aren’t part of the story, that they don’t belong, that they’re not on the grand arc, it means from their vantage point, they can’t see the hope. And my purpose, my work in the world, is to hold the hope and live into the hope until it’s visible for others. And likewise, when I go through my own periods of not seeing, or dark nights and days, of not believing, I’m going to need the hope of others to carry me through.
It’s not just a personal faith, it’s a collective faith, and we carry and are carried by the faith of others as we live through the harsh realities of our human limitations and sufferings.
I’ve committed myself to carrying hope right now, like a candlelit lantern. I have faith in possibilities not yet experienced. Possibilities so unlikely, they might as well be supernatural.
Faith is something I have in spite of what I see and experience (pandemic, ecological and economic injustice, etc.), and because of what I have seen and experienced (like the cardinal in my backyard). And that faith requires my hope and my action, because it’s only action, individually and collectively, that will make the hope real, that will embody and incarnate what I believe is possible.
The weary world is not rejoicing because because everything is great. The weary world (or just my little corner of the world) rejoices in the new dawn that comes every day. And as long as that keeps coming, there’s hope.
There are no guarantees. There are no certainties of arrival. There never have been and it wouldn’t be faith if there was. But there is the daily ability to choose actions and ways of being that are expressions of what I have faith we are arcing towards, collectively and individually. And in choosing them I bring that hoped for future into the present, making its eventual reality that much more of a possibility.
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