catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 22 :: 2007.11.30 — 2007.12.14


Haunted by hope

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.  For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
Romans 8: 22-26

Over the course of the past week, I’ve spent over three hours listening to and discussing a single song with three different groups of people.  It’s a song about the class and race divisions that were revealed as the waters of Lake Pontchartrain receded from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.  It’s a song about nameless dead, hopelessness, willful ignorance, relentless heat, anti-progress and un-nature—and the subject matter is masterfully reflected in the music.  The artist, Vienna Teng, creates a chaos of dissonance, with droning strings, multiple keys and random instrumental accents, often while sitting just a half note below where she should be with her voice. The discomfort is broken only by an ethereal bridge:

lie as darkness hardens
lie of our reunion
oh, lie if god is sleeping
oh, I believe you now

But shortly, the angelic choir gives way to the same eerie nails-scratching-on-a-chalkboard.  Whatever Teng may or may not be offering in the way of hope, she’s clearly implying that we can’t ignore the mess we’ve made.  It pools around us up to our necks in the petroleum-laden, memory-strewn waters of Lake Pontchartrain.

So where do we go from there?

Within one group we discussed the song with this week is a colleague whose grandmother has gotten increasingly ornery over the years, disbelieving in the goodness of humanity to the point that she gets upset with her grandchildren who decide to have kids.  Why would someone choose to bring children into this world?  Though very few of us embody this extreme, I think even fewer of us could say we’ve never had a single experience of being mired in despair.  Whether for an hour, a year or a decade; whether once in a lifetime or with the regularity of a rollercoaster—if our eyes are open, we’ve been there.

Within the pages of this issue, there are many suggestions for climbing out of despair to a vantage point of hope: praying humbly and often, participating in a vision for newly created systems, worshiping with the body of Christ, working our butts off, living in the moment, waking up to reality, partaking of apocalyptic art—and this is not nearly an exhaustive list.  If there are so many ways to rekindle hope, why is cynicism such a big deal?  Why, for many of us, is despair the hurdle of our journeys?

It’s a baffling question until I consider the alternative: living in a world infested with suffering in a constant state of blind euphoria that leaves no room for mourning with those who mourn, no room for blessing the oppressed, the meek, the persecuted.  In a book of daily reflections called Living the Message, Eugene Peterson distinguishes wisely between wishing and hoping: “Wishing extends our egos into the future…. Hope is God’s will coming into the future.”  One could say that a state of blind euphoria—or wishing—is just as hopeless as one of blind despair because it’s self-focused and doesn’t wrestle with the complexities of suffering and mystery.  It merely projects our view of the way things should be onto the way things are.  A state of alternating hope and cynicism, on the other hand, means that our eyes are open to both suffering and the promise of the Kingdom, and the unique mysteries of each that sometimes prevent us from controlling our outlook on a day-to-day basis. 

It’s one of the omnipresent paradoxes that in this present in-between time, we wait. We wait with the pregnant expectancy of a new mother and, as the Advent story goes, should not be surprised if we find ourselves—in spite of ourselves—vessels of God incarnate.  And our ancient wishful choice haunts us with the pain of each birth.

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