This reflection grows from a recent discussion with friends for whom I am very grateful.
It seems these days that all the news fit to print or broadcast is pretty depressing.
Impeachment revelations about lies and lying liars. The making of fake news. The broad absence of decent leadership across the globe. Riots and police repression. All while the planet burns – from wars and terrorism, and above all from climate change. While the fossil fuel business grasps for the last bit of profit even as it assures us that it’s working for the future of our planet. Even while the prophets are silenced or ignored. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
(Pause a moment to conjure your list of depressing news.)
I have suffered from depression most of my life – manic public energy and mild private depression. Runs in my family and throughout my Irish ancestry. Yet depression isn’t limited to the Irish, and seems especially prevalent among men of a certain age.
I can’t imagine how depression affects those who work with mental illness since they know, more than most of us, how the cancer spreads throughout the people, and the terrible consequences to which it can lead.
William Lynch, SJ’s most widely read book, Images of Hope (1965 and still in print), is about “mental illness and hope.” And, as he notes, we are all somewhat ill, somewhat wanting in hope.
He writes to fight a prevalent fantasy about hope – that it is a great leap to escape the bad news, the wasteland. Real hope, he argues, is a much smaller and more ordinary reality. It’s above all about help. About the many small ways in which we daily find help – from friends, or just from a breath of air; from the floor under our feet as we get out of bed or rise from a chair; from a smile or helping hand (received or given); from the many daily goods which persist amidst the clouds of gloom.
That was a major part of Tolkein’s message — the little guys and friendships amidst the great war.
A friend who counsels addicts tells them to get out of bed with the alarm, wash your face, make the bed, pour a cup of coffee….
Lynch repeats the story told by a Holocaust survivor: One inmate asked another why he bothered to wash his hands and face each day, amidst the dirt and degradation and certainty of imminent death. The answer? Because such small actions maintain our sense of human dignity within the larger hopelessness.
So it is with so much news that goes unreported. At ground level, daily. Acts of kindness and courage, intentional and random, mostly small. While walking the dog. Opening a door. Washing dishes. Or the many movements for small service, for linking hands in solidarity against evil, for collecting donations, joining in prayer….
I venture to suggest that at ground level our lives are filled with good news – if we but have eyes to see and ears to hear. Yes, that’s true for THE good news preached by Jesus. But it’s also true for the daily good news the media does not print – in part because there’s more profit in bad news; but also (!!) because there’s far too much of it to cover.
So walk the dog and notice – all the beauty that remains in nature, and in the folks next door, the barista, those shopping in the grocery….
NOT to escape the bad news. NOT to avoid the prophets. NOT to cease to struggle against lying liars and climate destroyers, against violence and racism and terrorism of all kinds. But to nourish hope in the midst of such struggle.
For finally the Kingdom is God’s. We must work for it, in ways large and small. It is SHE who will provide. In ways for me both imaginable and unimaginable.
Meanwhile, consider the lilies, smell the flowers. Share a smile, even if it be but a comforting grimace. Accept even the depression as a small sign that we’re still alive and aware of the evil.
And may the people say “Amen” while waiting in joyful hope. For it’s always Advent.
10 thoughts on “All the News… (Lynch # 4)”
Thank you for sharing and the simple reminders. As I was reading I could hear Wayne Dyer saying, “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” Easier said than done on some days. 💗
Thanks! Gratitude is one of the fundamental daily acts of attention!
Thank you, John, for reminding us of everyday experiences nurturing hope in God’s redemptive presence. Here are three anecdotes from my teaching experience witnessing to that reality; one from a student, one from a teacher, and one from myself.
Mark, a high school junior, wrote in an essay that his parents were often at each other’s throat. One night, finding their bickering unbearable, he went outside and simply looked at the starry sky. He found peace and rejuvenation. Stacy, an English teacher, was at her wits end with her classes. Instead of crashing she resolved “I’m going to be nice to myself this weekend.” She set aside her school work, took out her camera, and found recreation in taking pictures of nature.She too was rejuvenated. I’ve always loved teaching theology. But this one day my emotions were frazzled, and I wasn’t sure if I would keep my composure. Keith, an irresponsible and inattentive 16 year old, somehow intuited my emotional state and became involved responsibly in class work, actually bringing other students along with him.
For me each of these incidents was a word of the Lord saying “Don’t worry. I’m here..”
Thanks, John! I really appreciate being in our men’s group with you, and your follow up post on depression and hope. If we are are not at least ‘situationally depressed’ at times by what’s going on in our world, we are probably not conscious! I think many people were traumatized by the election of Trump, and one of the consequences of depression and trauma is a form of paralysis that we need to be aware of and not succumb to. I love how your post addresses this and reminds us not to give into despair, and remember hope. Coming together in community is one of the ways we can ‘puff the blaziness’ of Advent and invigorate hope in our lives.
Thanks for this, John. It’s what I live by, one day at a time. I just ordered his book. And 2 weeks ago, I began an online poetry sharing group. This grew out of a Guild seminar on beauty. The response was so alive that I thought we might continue. It’s not for poets, per se, but I send a weekly prompt to which people can reply, or not. It’s not about ignoring the Awful; it’s to put something else out there, something about our essential humanity.
Thanks and blessings.
John, Enjoyed 4 Lynch. Thanks for With a Cane. Your brother Vince
It seems that much of the good news-bad news predicament depends on expectations. Marshall McLuhan observed that most of what we call news is “bad” news. The “good” news is the advertising. “It takes a whole lot of good news to sell all that bad news.” As I understand it, gardens and serpents notwithstanding, the doctrine of “Original (i.e., basic, pervasive) Sin (i.e., something like “missing of the target of our authentic selves”) alerts us to expect that the world in which we humans exist is a mixed bag. It is neither paradise nor hell in its totality. Or perhaps we should say that we humans are a mixed bag. We are, on the whole, neither wholly angels nor demons, in all sorts of ways. Learning to spot the difference between the good and the bad is a lot of work despite the fact that the news media daily provide us with abundant opportunity for practice. I just returned from eight days of virtual isolation from any news whatever. When I returned, it was no surprise that nothing had changed. . .except perhaps that the “good news” adverting to the approach of our largest commercial holiday had stepped up.
A life-long friend of mine, a very bright fellow, was deeply depressed for considerable time over the prospect of nuclear holocaust. One day I told him that, yes, the possibility of nuclear destruction is real. But that does not mean that we should live as though it has already happened. Hope, as I understand it, is the courage to live and act in the face even of the terrible. This is the Good News of Christ Mass: It eventually issues in Death…AND Resurrection. Meanwhile, as the Flight Director in Apollo 13 advised his engineers, whose expectations were collapsing under the weight of potential catastrophe, “Work the problem,” however the problem happens to be appearing at the moment. As John’s opening essay observes, there is much in direct evidence around us that en-courages if we are paying attention. Hope is communal. We catch it from one another. I am grateful for those who help us bear that in mind and spirit.
Persuasive and inspiring, Randolph! Mother Teresa insisted that those who help the desperate do so with a smile. This can only be done if we are convinced of the felix culpa of Christianity!
Dorothy Day spoke of the duty of delight.