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.