Friends, it has been quite a week. Many are feeling disoriented, disillusioned and maybe even a little prone to despair. A friend and mentor calls this the ambush of hope, that misstep of believing the world marches forward in a straight line of inevitable progress. That kind of hope is always a bad bet and a failed idea, which is why many forms of hope are rightly criticized for being blind and naive optimism. That isn’t Christian hope. Christian hope isn’t even possible unless you stare at God hanging dead on a cross. (And doesn’t that sentence just land with an unwelcome ooooph.) It is not for the faint of heart, and not for the shallow hope-seekers. So the question for us is now what? And it seems the first step may be to look at what we were hoping for and hoping in and maybe letting a good bit of that go. Make space for what is to come. Make space for the pain, actually, and the shattering of disillusion.
So I want to share with you today some words from Professor Moltmann that I really love, because they are true and also bittersweet, and I think that kind of truth makes sense to us right now, and may be exactly what we need when we have realized how little we hunger for cotton-candy versions of hope that are so quickly offered. This section comes from A Passion for God’s Reign.
Let me speak personally for a moment: theology is for me a suffering from God and a passion for God’s kingdom. For me this is a messianic passion, because it is possessed and moved by the presence of the crucified Christ. For me theology springs from a divine passion– it is the open wound of God in one’s own life and in the tormented men, women, and children of this world; from the accusation Job threw at God; from Christ’s cry of forsakenness on the cross. We are not theologians because we are particularly religious; we are theologians because in the face of this world we miss God. We are crying out for his righteousness and justice, and are not prepared to come to terms with mass death on earth.
But for me theology also springs from God’s love for life– the love for life that we experience in the presence of the life-giving Spirit and that enables us to move beyond our resignation and begin to love life here and now. These are also Christ’s two experiences of God, the kingdom of God and the cross, and because of that they are the foundations of Christian theology, as well: God’s delight and God’s pain. It is out of the tension between these two that hope is born for the kingdom in which God is wholly in the world and the world is wholly in God.
We are theologians because in the face of this world we miss God.
Moltmann is not espousing some sort of God-outside-the-world viewpoint here. That isn’t the point he’s trying to make. What he is saying is that there is a place deep within us that longs for God, that longs for harmony with God, and when we experience those places in the world where God’s harmony and God’s shalom is visibly and painfully absent, we know it. We know it in a way that would break us if not for the fact that the longing is always greater, always leading us home, always opening us to new growth and new eyes and total transformation, if we’re brave enough.
But here is the part of that equation we often miss, because we so very much wish we could just skip over it, avoid it, remove it, do such a good job at social activism and do-gooding and t-crossing and i-dotting that we could just MAKE it go away: that longing is itself the product of both delight and pain. And we have not and will never have one without the other. If we have what Moltmann calls a “messianic passion,” we are moved by the presence of the crucified Christ, who has both died and risen, and who yet still bears the wounds of his pain. Moltmann calls theology the open wound of God. I wonder if he would also agree that Jesus himself is the open wound of God, always present to us, always present to humanity and all of creation, present to the delight and present to the pain and present to the dying and present to the rising again.
I am a person of action, and much of me wants to act this week. I want to defy, to call out, to speak out, to organize. And what I have felt in between my moments of self-serving bravado is a quiet call to what the Buddhists call tonglen: a practice of compassion that opens you up not only to your own pain, but through your own pain to the pain of all others. It seems to me that Jesus lived here. It seems to me that the thing that allows us to see clearly from the margins stems from our ability to open to the wounds of those on the margins and realize that while we may be new here, or at least a mere temporary visitor, they carry these wounds daily in their hands and feet. How rude of us, to assume the wounds are so fresh and new, just because we have been shielded from them up to now.
A poem by Leon Weiseltier was shared with me a few weeks ago, and I have revisited it many times since. He ends with these words:
Do not persevere.
Dignify the shock.
Sink, so as to rise.
Now is the time to dignify the shock. To make friends with the open wound of God, to become familiar with our own longing for God and for all the places of absence we see in stark relief. Now is the time to follow the wisdom of the Christ, who descended even to the depths of hell so as to rise again on Easter morning. Delight and pain. Pain and delight. This is the way of things.
Let go of the need to explain, make sense, assign blame. Be present to the open wound instead. Dignify the shock. Sink, so as to rise.