Hopeful pessimist or hopeless optimist? Thoughts on Ascension Thursday

tumblr_m2ac30GRU61r35gi7o1_500“May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened,
that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call…” – Ephesians 1:18

A little lectio divina led me to savor this particular line of today’s Scripture, for Ascension Thursday. While I’m a little wistful that Easter draws to an end, I also find myself hopeful. Now I’ve been floundering around for something to say about my hope, and wouldn’t you know it, God pointed me to some words on the topic. Just yesterday, in the throes of my final floundering, I came across a post written by Bridget at Women in Theology, where she, among other things, reminds us of something very important:

“…hope is not optimism. In fact, in certain cases (I suspect most of the cases where it actually matters) optimism can be a vice opposed to hope. An optimist can discount and ignore evidence against her conviction that things will right themselves. An optimist is threatened by others’ pain. But someone acting in hope—the conviction not that things will right themselves, nor that we’ll be able to right them, but that God’s power will work to overturn whatever wrongs our systems can devise—that person can face pain. Without denying pain or being swept away by it, she can face her own and others’ suffering.”

Hope is not optimism. Do a little lectio with those words – they are most powerful!  I find this so helpful – and so hopeful, as I return to those words from Ephesians that open this post. I also appreciate that Bridget reminds us of the importance of language and of depth of reflection, something we can easily forget in the land of status updates and tweets, in the land of “optimistic opinionating” that social media can represent. (This is not a swipe at social media, without which there would be post today, but rather a call to reflection. Add to that a reminder that God uses all things for good – including social media, which provided the incubator for both this post and the WIT post that ultimately inspired it.)

Today my reflection, along with it my prayer, is to be anchored in hope and free from optimism. This does not make me a hopeful pessimist, any more than the opposite would be a hopeless optimist… although I can see the allure of the latter. No, it is the banality of optimism that I was reminded of at the last minute, and the power of great hope that grows out of faith.

Pentecost will arrive on Sunday, May 19. In these days in between, we await the Holy Spirit. What will your prayer be during this powerful time? Suddenly, my own prayer which was centered around the ways that I “hoped” that God would shape my life, has shifted. Today – at least just today, just this moment – pray that hope grows more deeply in my heart. If I am able to string my prayer of hope from moment to moment, and day to day, between now and Pentecost, who knows what will happen? Maybe, just maybe, the “eyes of my heart will be enlightened.” And to that I say, amen, and amen, and amen.

In the meantime, don’t just go staring at the sky, waiting for Jesus to come back down. Open your heart and notice Jesus all around you, especially in the most pessimistic of places and in the people you would never imagine finding Jesus is, but where Jesus might be found with the open eyes of a willing heart.



Nothing Is Simple – Some Thought Provoking Posts

Is it possible to simply read things that we either agree with or disagree with and just ponder them for a bit? Now that school is over, I am taking some time to actually read some blogs. Tonight I opened Rambling Follower, Καθολικός διάκονος, Women In Theology (WIT), Quantum Theology, Of Course I Could Be WrongA Seat at the Table and Sean Philpott. I read a few other things too, but there are so many good blogs and so little time.

With blogs, Facebook and Twitter, it is easy to read and react. Lock and load. I am guilty of this and have been trying not to continue in that vein. (On Thursday night as I wrote this I linked to something that was not exactly what it seemed… so that is one of many examples of my own trigger finger.)

I also feel like I have been attacked for having an opinion that is different from others. Attacked is a strong word – but it is how I have felt at times. I don’t really care, but it is an interesting place to be. One group of people seems to think me backward and another group seems to think that I lack obedience. It is an interesting place to be.

I always say that I am too far to the left for the right and too far to the right for the left. *sigh*  Last time I checked, I never told anyone what they should think or do, but boy, do I get hit hard when I say certain things. Whatever – I am not a victim, but I remain curious about why this is.

Often I am told, what do you think will happen when you write about such things? Well, I guess one thing is that I hope that people will actually read things and not just infer them from the titles or links. I also guess that since I am not some big deal blogger with a zillion commenters from all over creation, that people who actually know me in some fashion might ask questions before shooting. 

In any case, I am not trying to tell anyone to do anything; I guess I am always longing for actual conversation from people of diverse viewpoints on any number of challenging topics. Conversation in which we actually discuss in even tones why we do believe what we do and why.

Just sayin’… I know, call me a crazy dreamer.

In any case, I read many fine posts tonight, but I would like to focus on two of them. Both will have appeal and yet cause discomfort in ways that are interesting. They also remind me that nothing is as simple as it seems and that stopping to think might benefit us all.

Over at WIT, blogger Julia (all the women there are doing graduate or post-graduate work in theology) offered Reflections on Pregnancy. I’ve never been pregnant, so I have nothing to offer, but am always interested in reading about such things.

In any event, Julia writes about what she learned about pregnancy as she grew up  Catholic and then what she learned about pregnancy… as a pregnant woman. Let it suffice to say, it was not always pretty. She then quickly moves into some very profound thoughts on what is needed during pregnancy and when women have children. Here is an excerpt or two…

Now I’m actually pregnant and I realize it is not that great.  I actually really dislike being pregnant.  I felt awful for (not just the first three months, but really) the first 4.5 months.  By “awful”, I  mean specifically that I thought I was going to throw up at any moment day or night 24/7.  I often did, and when I didn’t I usually felt even worse.  I couldn’t open my refrigerator door, I couldn’t cook or prepare my own food, I couldn’t food shop.  The smells were too intense and the nausea was too debilitating.  I didn’t feel like I was having a baby, I felt like I had become the baby. 

She went on to say this…

There’s so much that could make pregnancy easier for women.  Once I start brainstorming on the topic, I quickly become overwhelmed.  There is so much that needs to change.  I’ll just offer a few thoughts here.  First, it would be a lot healthier if we adopted realistic language about pregnancy and childbirth in religious settings.  We should talk about how bearing children is really difficult and becoming frustrated with the process does not mean that one has failed to accept any potential gifts that might exist alongside of the challenges.  In churches that emphasize the role of Mary and, in particular, Mary’s role as mother of Jesus, we should be honest about the fact that Mary probably experienced a lot of pain and suffering—not only in childbirth, but also throughout the course of the pregnancy itself and into early motherhood.

Julia is weaving Jesus, Mary, nursing, receiving help, and having larger breasts and other sexual elements into an astounding post of remarkable thoughts about birth, life, community and transformation. If you’ve never thought about a woman nursing in Church, you will now. Go read it – it is seriously really well done. You can read it now by clicking here.

The other post I wanted to highlight also has to do with pregnancy, in a manner of speaking. This post *really* touched me deeply and I have run the gamut from wanting to post it right to Facebook to wanting to selfishly hide it.

The post is at Sean Philpott’s blog. Sean is a bioethicist and I met him very briefly at Siena College in the spring of 2010. He was on a panel about bioethics hosted by my friend Benita Zahn, who had invited me to watch said panel. (Albany folk and Oswego types will know Benita as a TV anchor. What many do not know is that she also has a degree in bioethics. She truly is a renaissance woman with many interests and talents.)

Sean and I have, like so many people, developed a Facebook friendship. While he, Benita and I have talked about getting together, it has yet to happen. However, I love reading his updates and like so many online friendships, one has a sense of knowing so much about a person and yet not really knowing them at all.

Today when I noticed that Sean had an update, I thought it would be about his recent trip to Georgia (the country) and Estonia. When I clicked in, I saw the title, A Bioethicist’s Education and I kind of wondered what I would be reading.  Immediately I could see that he was writing about his nephew Pedro; Sean said that he would be turning one soon. Now Pedro lives quite a distance away from Sean, so he doesn’t get to see him very often, but clearly he treasures his nephew. He said that he could not imagine a life without him.

Now comes the interesting part… Sean says that if Pedro’s parents lived in the US, he might not have ever been born. I’ll let Sean speak for himself. Remember – Sean is a bioethicist.

I can no longer imagine what my or my families’ life would be like without Pedro. Had his parents lived in the United States, however, it possible that he would have never been born.

This is because Pedro has Down syndrome, a common genetic abnormality that occurs in about 1 in 750 births. 

Some of what follows does not come as a surprise, but some of it does. I want to be clear – Sean is a bioethicist that in his own words… well let me quote him, Sean says “I am an ardent supporter of reproductive choice.” However, before he says that, he says this:

Women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome often choose to selectively terminate their pregnancy, so as not to bring a profoundly disabled child into the world. Some studies suggest that over 90% of all pregnancies with a Down syndrome diagnosis are terminated. But I wonder whether these women are making a truly informed and voluntary choice to terminate their pregnancies.

Remember – Sean supports reproductive choice, but it is also interesting that he says this. 

Here is what I think of these two posts – I think that both authors are true to who they are, but they invite us into places that are not what we might think. Each of them goes into a place that is different.

Julia does not use cheap talk to glorify pregnancy. She uses Marian imagery and yet makes a real case about just how hard it can be to be pregnant and then uses that as an invitation to live differently about it. She issues a challenge of sorts.

Sean on the other hand has no wish to become an unwitting bioethicist poster child for pro-life issues. Yet he also steps outside of typical boundaries and examines, with the heart of a loving uncle and the mind of a bioethicist, how love and personhood matter. Then he issues a challenge of sorts.

Both writers are simply asking us to stop and… think. At least I think that is what they are saying. Isn’t that why we express our opinions? What a waste it is to have all the shouting and no reflection, conversation, interaction. 

Ultimately I’d like to invite everyone to read these pieces and then think about them. Like them or hate them as you wish. But think. I know who believes in what, who hates what, who stands for what.

What I’d like to know is what happens when you go to the places beyond one’s tightly held beliefs and pokes around a little. It’s risky, you never know where you’ll come out, but hey, we all might learn something.

Nothing is simple after all, but then everything actually is pretty simple at the same time.