I’ve grown more cynical as I’ve gotten older. I know this and I own it. Part of the issue is as I’ve become an adult, I’ve become less of a big picture thinker and more of a detail oriented person – not that being a big picture person is bad, or that being detail oriented automatically predisposes you to being cynical, but you start to realize how much work goes into things you thought would be so easy and natural.
The other part of it is more grounded in the times; every day my phone or computer delivers constant updates of tragedy and heartbreak. Every hour there’s another school shooting, police brutality, queer bashings, environmental crises, I could go on, but I’m fairly certain you probably feel the same way. Elected officials tasked with serving people serve only themselves and the corporations they get donations from. Church leaders cry about the name of Jesus being twisted in the public square for decidedly un-Christian legislative agendas but they don’t do much else about it but hem and haw and play it safe….All while people die easily preventable deaths.
It is hard to feel hopeful. It is hard to not feel constantly powerless. It is exhausting trying to convince people they should care about other human beings or about the planet they live on, about the kind of world they will leave to their children. There is a nihilistic side of me that rears its head from time to time, that says, “Well, we probably don’t have long on this planet anyway, at the rate we’re going.” I hate that my mind goes there, y’all. I really do. That isn’t who I am at my core. But some days, all I have is anger and pain and these feelings of futility, and that’s okay, because my emotions are valid, but I want to move forward. I want to hope again. I want to get off my ass and do something.
Psalm 37, which is today’s appointed psalm in the Daily Office Lectionary, really spoke to me this morning in this place of hopelessness (here are verses 1-2 and 11-14):
“Do not fret yourself because of evildoers; *
do not be jealous of those who do wrong.
For they shall soon wither like the grass, *
and like the green grass fade away.
In a little while the wicked shall be no more; *
you shall search out their place, but they will not be there.
But the lowly shall possess the land; *
they will delight in abundance of peace.
The wicked plot against the righteous *
and gnash at them with their teeth.
The Lord laughs at the wicked, *
because he sees that their day will come.”
Ironically, I realized later this morning that I had read the ‘wrong’ psalm, because today is the feast of the Visitation, so there’s a whole separate set of readings. Psalm 37 still felt right for me though. This feast is the day on the liturgical calendar is when we mark the story of Mary, Mother of Jesus, visiting her cousin Elizabeth to announce the good news that she was to bear the child of God (Luke 1:41-44, emphasis mine):
“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.'”
Elizabeth reminds us that Mary could have told the angel Gabriel that he was full of it. “Me, bearing God’s child? Nah. You lyin.”
But she believed.
In the subsequent paragraph, confirming that belief in a God who transforms and transcends limitations, Mary sings her song of praise, the Magnificat. She praises God for bringing deliverance, for casting the mighty down from their thrones and lifting up the outcasts, for feeding the hungry and sending the rich away empty handed. Her words are a prayer for many of us in the church who live under the weight of oppression.
This interaction between these two women experiencing miracles is subversive. It echoes the hope of the Psalmist quoted earlier, God laughing in the face of the world’s cruelty because God has other plans.
The hope and expectant joy of marginalized people- in this case two women living under an imperial regime- is a radical act!
In a world that tells us we are worthless, that tells us we are the cause of our own suffering, that tells us not to dream because our dreams are impossible – to refute all of that and say that our God is bigger than these human made chains, that’s fucking revolutionary.
That is Mary’s belief, her hope. Hope is what sparks revolution. Hope is the embryo of a new future, that with time and care, gestates into new life.
My beloved friend Hye Sung wrote recently that presently in our time Jesus is “calling together a people, shaping them even now in their shared pain, that they might birth something new. I like to think of these people of Jesus as doulas of the apocalypse: they are loving a new world into being. Present to the struggles of the people. Grounding the violent pangs of birth in mercy and through faith.” As I reflect on Mary and Elizabeth celebrating the life growing within them and the revolution that was to come, I know that I am part of this call spoken of by my friend. I hear the Spirit speaking to me, and sometimes I want to tell Her to stop bugging me so damn much, but I know She’s right. I know it won’t be easy work by any means.
But I will begin with hope.