Sunday, November 26th, 2017
CUP of HOPE
We look to the hills from whence cometh our help? But instead, cometh a monumental mud slide, ever rising water, razor strength winds, and hate that keeps coming through guns again and again and again. Hope gets battered. Hope gets catastrophe fatigue. Hope gets cynical. Hope gets worn out. Hope needs a booster shot. We stay determined to be hopeful and we are, but our hope needs a renewal system.
For many people (and the ‘many’ is growing larger) the usual source of hope doesn’t work. Formal organized religion has diminished power as a place to go for hope. The Pew Study of the Religious Landscape done in 2014 shows both trends and confusion when it comes to belief in God, the practice of prayer and the importance of religion in American lives. ‘Nones’ is a term for the religiously unaffiliated who self-identify as atheists, agnostics or who describe their religion as “nothing in particular”. This group has grown from 16% in 2007 to 23% in 2014. And still 75% of the ‘nones’ pray some of the time.
The secular world doesn’t seem like the place to turn for hope these days either. Government is comedy and tragedy both, great for entertainment but not for getting important things done. Education is bifurcating to rich and poorer and not great at producing literate, critical thinking citizens that are informed and able to do collaborative work.
We are in a time of institutional crisis. Phyllis Tickle (her name gives me hope) was the religious editor for Publishers’ Weekly. In that role she saw religion from a historic and strategic vantage point. So she wrote her own book Emergence Christianity about the cycle we are entering which applies to all religions and institutions. She demonstrates that the United States (and the world is implied) is at the beginning of a time of turmoil. Tickle says that every five hundred years, it’s time for a religious garage sale in which the clutter needs to be sorted through. The old that doesn’t work has to be tossed, the old that needs to be cherished needs care and polishing, and new must be created.
In the meantime, many of us flounder. What to do with our spiritual yearning that we ignore or treat with worldly answers that don’t cut it? What to do with our ambivalence, doubts and irritations with formal religion’s present failing? We do what any cast adrift, homeless, orphaned, embittered, doubt filled person does. Find a home base. Find a home base that rings true, that gives comfort, that helps you see a good future, that guides your behavior to what you want it to be, that gives you glimpses of the sacred, the transcendent, perhaps even God.
How to keep faith and hope alive becomes a very practical question, not an exhortation. Me? I wrote a book I PRAY ANYWAY: Devotions for the Ambivalent. The title for the book came to me immediately—and the important words were ‘anyway’ and ‘ambivalent’. Regardless of hate inspired by fundamental interpretations of the sacred, regardless of a needless (my thought) battle between science and religion, regardless of theological nit picking, regardless of my vacillation between faith and doubt, regardless of the perversion of power by religious leaders, regardless of the various negative images (dumb and duped) of believers, I decided to pray—my way.
Writing the book became my homebase. Ritual is comforting and supports habit. By chance and then by choice I always “prayed” with a red cup of coffee by my side. I read widely across all religious/spiritual traditions from a tower of devotional books. And I sat and sipped. And peace came, the kind that makes no sense given the reality of what goes on. Not the empty space of meditation but a fullness of the grace of being alive. Maybe Godness too. I don’t name it.
I recently ran what I call a Playshop on the themes from the reflections in the book I PRAY ANYWAY. It was a very mixed group of age and gender and beliefs—four Jews, one Secular Humanist, one Buddhist, three Evangelical Christians, one Muslim, one atheist, three agnostics and six ambivalents. The most commonly held opinion that emerged was that prayer needed to be re-branded. It has a bad image or people don’t understand it or even know how to pray if they chose to.
It was a lovely modern experience as people with strong and different stances listened and learned from on another talking about subjects not usually or deeply discussed. We laughed. We shared tragic moment. We were relieved to not be isolated with doubts and questions. We enjoyed being able to share our strong beliefs without watering them down—and still feel safe and connected.
So, yes we are in the beginning of an historical time of disintegration where the old is done and the new isn’t yet created. This time of chaos that allows enough space for institutions to get loose and fluid enough for new to enter. It is a painful, disorienting, discouraging passage we are in. How to get through ‘now’ to the ‘new’ is the dilemma. We don’t have enough commonly held belief and moral structure to lean into. I believe we will. It is emerging. It is not, will not, be fast coming or easy. It will have to demand the best of us and it will have different form and structure from what we have now.
And so for now,
I trust my own experience. I pour my cup of coffee in my red cup, which I call my cup of hope—a term my daughter and I use for the boost of caffeine. And often I get up having had a good cup of coffee in a red cup and nothing else. But usually I have a cup of hope that keeps me going while we are in this time of world wide turmoil that is roiling as it learns to love in a disciplined, commonly held way. That’s my hope.