Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
--Hebrews 11:1 NRSV
How are you holding up in this pandemic summer?
Me? I feel like every day is blurring into the next day. Summertime can be like that in the best of times, but during the coronavirus it’s easy to look up and find a week or two has just blown past without my realizing it. I think part of my loss of a clear sense of time is a defense mechanism. There’s been so much bad news in this dumpster fire of a year that I feel like I’m more than a bit mentally fatigued. Covid-19, the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breanna Taylor and so many others, no baseball, businesses being shut down, crazy high unemployment—and weren’t we supposed to have “murder hornets” at some point?
I’m looking for some hope right now to smack me out of the daze I’m in. So, I picked up a book on my shelf that I’ve meant to read for some time: Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott. Lamott has been a favorite author of mine since I read her 1999 memoir, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith. Lamott’s brutal honesty about how difficult life can be mixed with her stubborn optimism and faith in spite of those difficulties has given me the permission I needed at times to simply sulk or wallow in my helplessness so I could get it out of my system and get on with my life.
In her acerbic way, Lamott admits how difficult life can be: “I have just always found it extremely hard to be here, on this side of eternity, because of, well, other people; and death.”
Since childhood, Lamott shares, whenever she is in a tall building or a high place, she has had the irrational urge to jump, not because she particularly wanted to die but because life was just hard. A life spent dealing with psychiatrists and therapists has revealed she is not suicidal but rather just someone who struggles with anxiety and has trouble filtering the pain she sees around her.
A therapist made her promise that whenever she felt the irrational urge to jump she would tell whoever she was with in order to “break the spell” and begin thinking rationally again. This has resulted in a lot of friends, family and even strangers becoming quite alarmed. The most helpful response she received came from a Coptic priest she was with on a mountain in Egypt. She confessed all her life she had felt an urge to jump off high places. The priest shrugged and replied, “Oh, who doesn’t?” Robbed of her own shame, Lamott could laugh at herself and move back from the edge.
Lamott writes that all of life’s truths are paradoxes. We may feel overwhelmed, hopeless and irrationally pulled toward the edge, but at the same time, if we are honest, we cannot avoid the miracles and beauty in life. She describes friends who have experienced unimaginable tragedies in their lives who somehow find life again, eventually. She writes, “[Such people] are blown over by something this catastrophic—how can they not be?—and their roots barely stay in the shifting soil. But life holds on. Little by little, nature pulls us back, back to growing. This is life. We are life.”
If we feel overwhelmed by the pain of life—pulled toward the edge—we are at the same time pulled toward the joy of life. This paradox turns out to be a reason for hope. “If you arrive at a place in life that is miserable, it will change, and something else about it will also be true.” She points to the daily headlines and says, ‘I have never witnessed both more global and national brutality and such goodness in the world’s response to her own.” For every horrible occurrence, one can find people and organizations struggling against the odds to repair what has been broken. Life keeps going.
Lamott is a Christian and can’t help but believe there is another reality just out of sight, going on at the same time as ours. She writes, “Is there another room, stage left, one we cannot see? Doesn’t something happening in the wings argue a wider net of reality? If there are wings off to the side or behind us, where stuff is unfolding, then reality is more than we can see and measure. It means there are concentric circles rippling out beyond the life we see being acted out on stage. I believe there is another room, and I have experienced this reality, beyond our agreed upon sense of actuality. But that’s just me, with perhaps an overeager spiritual imagination and a history of drugs. I don’t actually know that a deeper reality exists, but I believe that it does.”
So in this hazy summer of the pandemic where time seems to paradoxically stand still and move by too fast, if you find yourself needing some hope to wake you up, trust there is more going on behind the scenes and just offstage than you can see. It’s a paradox. Life is hard, but despite the evidence to the contrary, God is working in the world right in front of you and me in ways we cannot perceive but that are nonetheless real.
Grace and Peace,
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