On Hope

It isn’t always a little feathery thing, perched atop a box slammed shut, whistling a cheery tune.

Sometimes hope is recollection: I have been here before – in pain, and sorrowing, and alone – and I have survived it. Sometimes it’s courageous enough to say “I don’t feel it, but I have confidence that I will get through this, again, with God’s help.” Some nights (and days) it is an exhausted child, not understanding what it happening but trusting his mother’s love to carry him. In dark seasons, it can only sleep, huddled in a cubbyhole with a favorite blanket, longing in its dreams for the slow but certain return of the sun.


In the Bleak Midwinter


The words of my best-loved dead poet notwithstanding, midwinter is not at Christmas time. Rather, it is now, as the grey days of January ghost into the grey days of February; now, when it’s increasingly hard to remember green and golden days of sunshine, and nearly impossible to imagine that they will come again.

My best-loved living poet understands this season well, and gives me words for the blank emptiness I often feel this time of year. But marvelously, miraculously, he also reminds me that it is a season which will pass, one which I will remember not only for its heaviness, but also for truths laid bare, strength given to hold on, and the tenacity of hope.

Because We Hunkered Down
by Malcolm Guite

These bleak and freezing seasons may mean grace
when they are memory. In time to come
when we speak truth, then they will have their place,
telling the story of our journey home,
through dark December and stark January
with all its disappointments, through the murk
and dreariness of frozen February,
when even breathing seemed unwelcome work.

Because through all of these we held together,
because we shunned the impulse to let go,
because we hunkered down through our dark weather,
and trusted to the soil beneath the snow,
slowly, slowly, turning a cold key,
Spring will unlock our hearts and set us free.

Songs for the People

image by Rebekah Choat

image by Rebekah Choat

Let me make the songs for the people,
Songs for the old and young;
Songs to stir like a battle-cry
Wherever they are sung.

Not for the clashing of sabres,
For carnage nor for strife;
But songs to thrill the hearts of men
With more abundant life.

Let me make the songs for the weary,
Amid life’s fever and fret,
Till hearts shall relax their tension,
And careworn brows forget.

Let me sing for little children,
Before their footsteps stray,
Sweet anthems of love and duty,
To float o’er life’s highway.

I would sing for the poor and aged,
When shadows dim their sight;
Of the bright and restful mansions,
Where there shall be no night.

Our world, so worn and weary,
Needs music, pure and strong,
To hush the jangle and discords
Of sorrow, pain, and wrong.

Music to soothe all its sorrow,
Till war and crime shall cease;
And the hearts of men grown tender
Girdle the world with peace.

~ Frances E. W. Harper

The Virtue of Faking It


image by Rebekah Choat 


During times of tragedy, after unfathomable acts of hatred and violence, social media is flooded with reactive posts. Some, thank God, offer love and support to the victims (which, by the way, include the families and friends of those who have been physically harmed). A few present thoughtful reflection on the events and their underlying causes. Far too many express knee-jerk reactions – those instantaneous, unthinking first thoughts in response to an incident that touches a raw nerve, so to speak.

It is rare indeed, especially within the first twenty-four hours after a horrific crime, to read an impassioned and well-reasoned response to violent acts perpetrated by humans against fellow humans. Actor/director Sean Astin, however, posted just such a response on his facebook page early Sunday afternoon, setting an example that I hope will be emulated by many other passionate, reasonable people. I urge you to read the full post at http://www.facebook.com/SeanAstinPublic/posts/1228326873855099. I am sharing here a few of what I felt were the most salient points of his discourse, along with the thoughts they awoke in me.


…the survivors and the families shall have warmth and a genuine outpouring of love, as much as the world is capable of giving, the likes of which they have never seen or felt. They have earned no less through their unimaginably awful sacrifice.

Yes. The inevitable outpouring of love and compassion that follows the far-too-familiar atrocities of our times helps me hold on to my fragile faith in the residual goodness that is the enduring birthmark of all mankind, all beings created in the image of God – despite the also-inevitable eruption of vitriolic language and actions of those who have somehow lost sight of the truth that we are all – all – invaluable members of this human family. If not for the kindnesses and kinship that spring up in the aftermath, how could we escape despair?

And it’s never too early to protect each other from future harm. Such is the fleeting chance we have now…the same one that we almost always have at these moments…the same one we almost always forfeit…for no good reason, save our common failure of imagination.

This moment, gushing with agony is actually pregnant with hope and opportunity.

It’s so simple, you’d think, and yet we fail to do it, time and time again. Without minimizing or rushing past what has happened, can we not notice and remember and imagine ways to better care for each other from this day forward? Surely careful examination of and reflection on the pre- and post- behaviors of perpetrators and the scenes of heinous crimes could reveal seeds for new approaches to eliminating their recurrence. Surely these brief intervals in which we set aside our differences and embrace our common grief, our common humanity, could be prolonged until we learn to really live these sentiments.

Let us make a newfound commitment to be patient, careful, thoughtful, and generous.

In God’s name, whatever your faith, or no faith, please, let us do what is in our power. Communicate, respectfully with each other. 

Patience, caring, thoughtfulness, generosity, respect, kindness, gentleness, hope, peace, self-control, altruism, hospitality, compassion, honor for the sanctity of life, love for fellow-creatures, basic decency, common courtesy: call them Christian virtues, fruits of the Spirit, pillars of faith, innate goodness, steps toward enlightenment, ancient wisdom, noble truths, good manners, whatever you will; these are the qualities that we must nurture, in ourselves and in each other, if beauty is ever to rise from the heap of ashes we keep building.

(In the interest of complete honesty and sincerity, I should tell you that the previous paragraph does not mean that I hold all creeds and belief systems to be equally true; nor does it indicate that I believe human “niceness” will ever be enough to right all the wrongs of this world. I am a follower of Jesus Christ, and my hope for ultimate, eternal peace and justice is rooted in His divine nature. I freely confess that I do not believe homosexuality is God’s perfect plan for human relationship.  I do not, however, harbor any malice toward those who do not share my beliefs, and I deeply regret that some ‘Christians’ (as well as professors of other faiths) do. I dearly love my baby brother and his husband. I know that their close-knit community is made up of intelligent, talented, funny, wise, extraordinarily caring people.

Now is a time for grieving and support. Now is a time for putting forward inspired suggestions. 

To everything there is a season: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to be silent, and a time to speak; a time to sit down and wrap our arms around victims, and a time to rise up and bring justice upon victimizers and hatemongers and terrorists; a time to weep quietly with the wounded and broken, and a time to shout out in righteous wrath against those who maim and kill. The difficulty lies in being sensitive and discerning of the times and seasons, and there are no hard and fast guidelines – except that it is always the time to hold life sacred. The best you can do is let grace guide you.

PS: If you make comments on the post, please please please realize my vision…fake it if necessary :-)))

This postscript, especially these last four words, particularly stood out to me. Perhaps some readers were put off by them. Ours is a society which has, rightly, made authenticity one of the most highly sought-after virtues. We believe in truth, justice, and the American way. We expect people to be up-front and aboveboard in their dealings with us. We hope that our leaders and the press are giving us accurate information. We long for genuine connection with one another, naked soul to naked soul. We try to live authentically ourselves.

Authenticity is an honorable, commendable, right quality. But this good, like every other good, can be, and too often is, twisted to evil. It is interpreted as license to say and/or print hurtful words and behave in destructive ways. We make – and answer – demands for brutal honesty.

Honesty is right and good and ultimately always the best policy. But brutality (also known as savagery and cruelty) is wrong and evil and never appropriate.

Most of us, I think, don’t hesitate to “fudge” a little, to evade or delay or soften the “hard truth” in everyday situations. We understand that we should express  gratitude for gifts received, even if they’re the wrong color or age-range or style for us. We help and comfort our kids when they’re in trouble and save the discussion about why what happened was the result of their own actions for later. We paste on smiles and celebrate with loved ones when our own hearts are secretly breaking. We know that the right answer to “Does this make me look fat?” is “You are absolutely lovely, darling.” We intuitively “fake it” in deference to courtesy and kindness in appropriate circumstances.

Of course, the obligation to honesty remains, and the time for speaking the truth does come. If she doesn’t notice after a little while, tell your Aunt Gertrude that you don’t wear size 18 anymore. By all means, make sure your children recognize that their decisions carry consequences. Don’t hide your distress from your friends when you need to open up and ask for help. If it would be wise for your spouse to adopt a healthier lifestyle, encourage him or her to do so – with you. Lovingly. Calmly. Openly. Supportively. Firmly, but gently. Lovingly. Always. Do speak the truth – but do not be brutal in doing so. Do speak the truth – at the time when your listeners are able to hear it, which is seldom in the heat of crisis.

I believe Mr. Astin is on to something. There are situations in which the most appropriate action is to fake it. Surely we can stretch our imaginations to see this, to realize that love, real love, for others is not a warm, fuzzy feeling but a committed policy of extending respect and concern equally to all.

What if we acted like we believe the life of every individual on earth is a precious gift? What if we performed compassionate deeds for those whom we are really inclined to cross the road in order to avoid? What if we behaved as if we respected people who don’t look like us, or think like us, or live like us? What if we remembered that holy writings admonish us, not necessarily to feel affection for our neighbors and co-workers and castaways, but to refrain from mistreating the alien, to maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed, to do good to all people, to let our gentleness be evident to all, to bear one another’s burdens, and over all, to put on love?

“Fake it if necessary.” It seems to go against the grain, but what if such a counter- intuitive move actually helped? What if C.S. Lewis was right when he said, “Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbour; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find out one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.” [Ch. 9, Bk. 3, Mere Christianity]

Do we dare embrace such a radical idea, engage in such a revolutionary practice? I believe it’s worth a try. I’m willing to risk acting like love is the highest law of the land. Will you join me? It just might help to effect change, and what can it hurt? What have we got to lose? Yes, think about what we’ve got to lose.



A Discipline

image by Rebekah Choat

image by Rebekah Choat

Turn toward the holocaust, it approaches
on every side, there is no other place
to turn. Dawning in your veins
is the light of the blast
that will print your shadow on stone
in a last antic of despair
to survive you in the dark
Man has put his history to sleep
in the engine of doom. It flies
over his dreams in the night,
a blazing cocoon. O gaze into the fire
and be consumed with man’s despair,
and be still, and wait. And then see
the world go on with the patient work
of seasons, embroidering birdsong
upon itself as for a wedding, and feel
your heart set out in the morning
like a young traveler, arguing the world
from the kiss of a pretty girl.
It is the time’s discipline to think
of the death of all living, and yet live.

~ Wendell Berry

There Will Be Days Like This

As most of you know, depression has been a part of all my adult life. Some of you also know that I was diagnosed with a chronic illness earlier this year. One of the things that helps most is knowing that I am not alone; that there’s a large community in each camp, many members of both camps. We are drawn together somehow, in ways ranging from deep personal relationships to passing acquaintance to simple silent nods of recognition when we see each other across crowded rooms. We support each other. When we speak, we offer worn-out words that are nonetheless true and meaningful. “I am here with you.” “Hang on.” “Take it one little step at a time.” “There will be days like this.”

What I have to say today is, “There will be days like this.” You’ve heard it before, you’ve said it before, you’ll hear and say it again. And again. But wait. Listen. There will be days like this!

This day, I feel good – almost unbelievably, delightfully good. This day I can do simple tasks without pain and enjoy the home-iness of my home. This day I can take real pleasure in my husband’s excitement about his latest pet project. This day I can share my daughter’s joy in dancing. This day I can look forward to spending an evening with friends without effort. This day I can smile in the sunshine and laugh without faking it.

Never forget. Thanks be to God, there will be days like this.