Would That You Might Meet Us Doing Right

Sunday, November 30, 2014 - 6:16am

Would That You Might Meet Us Doing Right

Advent's familiar themes of waiting and hopeful expectation have a different ring this year.

"Waiting" works if you live in a world where you know that a little more patience generally would do you good. "Hopeful expectation" has a pleasant enough sound if your life is going reasonably well at the moment.

But how do these admonitions sound — "wait!" "be patient!" — in a context of violence and despair, of deprivation and gross inequality? What does "hopeful expectation" sound like, look like in places where justice has long been delayed, meaning, of course, that justice has been denied?

What if you're tired of waiting? What if your patience has run out? What if you have no hope?

Is it possible that affluent churches in nice neighborhoods (or even churches of modest means in safe communities) often make of Advent an aesthetic: a carefully rendered "experience" that is beautiful, tasteful, and moving while missing or at least masking its intimate, immediate connections to our messy, broken, violent world?

How do the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri — in all of their heart-breaking complexity — remind us that we are called to something more, invited to see that Advent is rooted in Israel's and the early Christians' longing for justice, for reconciliation, for restoration and wholeness? And that this longing was not an in-the-meantime passive acceptance of the status quo but an active participation in the work of healing and hope?

In Christopher Nolan's film Interstellar, the mess that humans have made of their lives — personally and collectively — is met with the knowledge that everything is connected, that "quantum entanglement" names not only the behavior of subatomic particles but the nature of being human. (Is there something to the idea that, beyond our love of physics — relativity, singularity, black holes, worm holes, the fifth dimension — physics is ultimately about love?)

We tangle and are entangled.

Like two or more particles who interact in such a way that the quantum state of each cannot be described independently, the state of each of us can be accounted for only in reference to the state of every one of us — even though, like discrete photons, we may be spatially separated.

These lines from Seamus Heaney's poem, "The Cure at Troy," speak to the truth that hope is wedded to the work of social change:

Human beings suffer.
They torture one another.
They get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted and endured.
The innocent in gaols
Beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker’s father
Stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
Faints at the funeral home.
History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

Hope is not wishful thinking; it is risk and action and the courage to undertake both.

But for those who would follow a crucified Messiah, it is also vulnerability and a willingness to walk alongside those whose hopes have been crushed. It is about keeping our eyes open and our hearts alert to injustice, and then to doing something about it so that hope and history may indeed, finally and at long last, rhyme.

"May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”Would that you might meet us doing right.


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Debra Dean Murphy

is associate professor of Religious Studies at West Virginia Wesleyan College and serves on the board of The Ekklesia Project. She regularly blogs about books, movies, music, art, politics — and how religion intersects all of these arenas — at Intersections: Thoughts on Religion, Culture, and Politics.


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How perfect for me today when I'm experiencing a mixture of hope and despair, pain and pleasure. As much as it seems hopeless, I can't give up believing that things will get better. Thank you for this.

THis still does not answer the question of a loving God allowing so much suffering.NO ,I'm not looking for utopia but some answers.

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Thank you..in times like these,Hope is a lifesaver. If we dare hope..it is Faith that provides solid ground. Faith that God is our constant companion as we seek our way through the unknown. I would dis pare of all the suffering in our world if Hope were not available .

What a wonderful reflection you shared! Places that have no hope or little hope are very dangerous places indeed, but somewhere in there it seems a tiny bit of light does make its way. A sliver of goodness can shatter a wall of despair sometimes. Like when a tiny flower seems to break through the crack in the concrete. Thank you for your thoughts

Thank-you for this writing. I love the words, "Hope is not wishful thinking; it is risk and action and the courage to undertake both." Would that you meet us doing right. Yes.

"— with poesy from Seamus Heaney..."
Definition of POESY
1c : artificial or sentimentalized poetic writing

Truth will out.

I love your thoughts. We're not called to look people who have been suffering from injustice in the eye and tell them to wait a little longer. God has empowered us to act on their behalf. As we yearn for God's Second Coming when he will right the world for good, we're called to keep advancing his Kingdom here on earth, bit by bit.

"Hope and history rhyme"...how beautiful.

To Dana,
Perhaps there is no answer to your question but I found this from James Finley of the Center for Action and Contemplation enlightening:

‘If God watches over me, how could God let this happen to me?’ This is such an understandable response to suffering in the life of those who trust and believe in God’s providential care.
“However, as a person ripens in unsayable intimacies in God, they ripen in a paradoxical wisdom. They come to understand God as a presence that protects us from nothing, even as God unexplainably sustains us in all things. This is the Mystery of the Cross that reveals whatever it means that God watches over us; it does not mean that God prevents the tragic thing, the cruel thing, the unfair thing, from happening. Rather, it means that God is intimately hidden as a kind of profound, tender sweetness that flows and carries us along in the intimate depths of the tragic thing itself—and will continue to do so in every moment of our lives up to and through death, and beyond."

Two passages from Christian scriptures have helped sustain me in the work I do with the Lumad people of the southern Philippines, who are some of the most marginalized people of the world. ()

1 Timothy 4:10. ”For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people.

Hebrews 6: 19. We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain.

A few years ago I gave a sermon at my church about a trip I had made to check on projects we fund. It was a hard trip; the violence against the Lumad people was palpable, as outside forces pushed to open up their ancestral lands for gold mining. Just a few weeks after my return, one of the Lumad chiefs we had worked with closely was gunned down because he was opposed to mining. It took me a long time to regain my spiritual grounding after that trip…..Perhaps the following excerpt from that sermon will help others. I know it helped me to write it…….Names have been changed to protect confidentiality (and yes, the Lumad often take “American” sounding names).

Gary, Nora, Rich, and Johnny, and so many others I work with in Bukidnon have faced hardships far more difficult than what most of us in this country will ever have to endure.

And yet, they still hold onto hope…. Not a kind of superficial optimism that pretends that the violence, poverty, and environmental plundering of their lands would all go away it they would just think positive thoughts and work hard enough….. No, the dark reality is that Nora’s husband and Johnny were both murdered, and the others know that someday they could be, too. Theirs is a kind of hope that comes out of deep suffering, birthed out of great loss and darkness….Theirs is a kind of hope that slowly grows into “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.” “They show us what the deepest kind of hope looks like. It looks like trust. It looks like acceptance.” And it looks like courage. (Weavings, Vol. XXV1, No. 2, p. 13.)

We all have days, months, and even years when life is overwhelming, when we feel constantly assaulted by despair no matter what we do. Acute medial crises; chronic, debilitating health problems that we have to learn to live with; all consuming care giving roles for aging parents or sick spouses; the deaths of loved ones; broken relationships; getting laid off from a job; a job that requires so much from us that we never feel like we have enough time for ourselves or our families; the black hole of depression and anxiety …..I’m sure that you could add a few more to this list…..

And yet…..and yet, despite our own pain, anxieties, and failures, hope abides within us, too….. Because hope is about RELATIONSHP. The stories of Gary, Nora, Rich, and Johnny remind us that we are not alone on this journey, God walks with us. Some of you may know this old hymn: “When all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay.” “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand.” (Ibid, p. 14)

And even when we face death, our final hope becomes union with God, our creator, our steady companion and our salvation.

Like the passage First Timothy, Gary, Nora, and Rich continue to “toil and struggle,” because they have their “hope set on the living God” who is so much bigger than what they see around them. And so they trust that, like Johnny, even if they don’t get to live to see it happen, God still continues to work for the good in all things…..

Let us join them in living this kind of deep hope.

Thanks to each of you for your thoughtful responses. To Dana's heartrending question: No easy answer to that one but one thing comes to mind: A God who meets us in vulnerability--becoming human like us--is not a Superman god who can fix everything. Rather, this is a God who--even as he suffered because of us, also suffers alongside us. As Jesus' cry of dereliction from the cross reveals: there is nowhere in our own godforsakenness that God in Christ has not already been.