The Lectionary text for October 16 is Luke 18:1-8.
I have been thinking a lot about how easy it is for me to become overwhelmed with the suffering of the world in the Smartphone age. We have twitter and facebook and all manner of news at our fingertips or in our pockets literally all day long. I can know about nearly every terrible thing that happens on the earth at any given moment and become crippled with sorrow, a crumpled mess. And I have. Which is ok sometimes to do, even recommended. But I think I have work to do to figure out how to be engaged and aware and prayerfully participating but not consumed and overwhelmed.
In fact, I’d started some notes for a post along these lines, about not losing hope, staying engaged, keeping on praying. And then I read this week’s passage from the gospel of Luke.* How bout that? A parable about our “need to pray always and not to lose heart.” Jesus, you rascal, with your uncanny sense of irony.
So how do we, folks who care, folks who pray, folks who want justice for the oppressed both at home and abroad, how do we not lose hope? How do we find the strength and perseverance to keep on praying, even though new tragedies happen every day and the work is never done? Even though kids are dying of chlorine gas attacks in Aleppo; Hurricane Matthew has devastated Haiti; race relations in the US (and elsewhere) result in death and devastation nearly daily; 1 out of ever 113 people on earth is currently a refugee; women all over the world are marginalized, abused, and underpaid; the U.S. political scenario is currently discouraging (at best!), and on and on.
Well, I’m convinced of a few things:
Contemplative Christian faith has valuable things to offer: ancient practices of the church which inspire peace within and without, and which ground and unify us and give us words and space for lament and grief and heart-change and focus. We would do well to learn them.
Real faith expresses real emotions, even the ones that we might consider negative. We don’t have to do the happy-happy-joy-joy constant victory dance. We can be present to suffering. We can express lament. We can weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. We can feel our feelings and allow others to feel theirs. This is part of our work of compassion in the world, and part of our victory. We can take our example in this from Christ himself.
Sabbath makes sense, and not just for resting from work. We can embrace the divine offer of Sabbath by turning off our personal news outlets one day a week. The world will survive while we take a moment to re-group. I don’t advocate sticking our heads in the sand, except for one day of the week, which you choose in the freedom and goodness of God, to receive the mercy of God in your own heart.
I don't think these are a panacea for hopelessness, but in my life I’m seeing them ground me in hope, and I know I can get better at leaning into them.
If you need help with hope, pray with me.
God, our faithful Friend: we know that you are not like the unjust judge in the parable.
You are just and merciful and compassionate,
We often find it difficult to hold suffering in our minds alongside hope.
Our hearts are often fragile and our minds forgetful.
Help us to be ok with expressing a full range of emotions:
Lament and joy
Anger and affection
Gratitude and disgust
Excitement and sadness
Doubt and empathy.
Help us to be disciplined, grounded in practices that bring us life
May the fruit of our practice be a river of hope
That flows beneath all we do
Into which we may refresh ourselves
Whenever we grow weary.
And help us to be as persistent as the widow
Not losing hope
Praying without ceasing
Seeking and working for justice.
*I try not to read ahead from week to week before preparing the Litany, just as a way of keeping an open mind