Sometimes the world is too much, and so we try to escape. Even that phrase—that I often overuse, “the world”—is an escape of sorts. We are often bad at naming the thing, the pain or joy, the love or anguish.
I’ll try again.
Sometimes hope feels like the easiest thing in the world. Like running fast and forever on a day when you can. Like a morning with plenty of time. Like a conversation that rings eternal. Sometimes hope is easy. But sometimes it isn’t.
Sometimes a band that holds the world together snaps and the shock, the injustice, the wrongness of it is so complete that despair and sadness feel like the only thing there is. A little boy who doesn’t get to grow up. A family with an ache that consumes. A younger brother who might not remember.
It is not a choice not to hope, nor a choice to escape. The wrong just becomes so big that you can no longer access the good. The paths to hope and joy become inaccessible. Sensemaking is out of the question. Perspective, like aging eyes, becomes blurry.
If such horrible things can happen, maybe the ground is not so solid. Maybe all our assumptions and dependables and granted takings are foolish after all. Maybe we should trust nothing. What is true? Who is sure? What will hold me?
My friend Lori, with a voice like liquid wisdom, reminds me, “Bles-sed are those filled with doubt. Bles-sed are those who doubt.”
The questions don’t disqualify. And like good hospitality, suddenly I know I’m not alone in wondering how I can ever hope again.
And so, to circle back to our roots: Sometimes the world is too much, and so we can’t access the comforts or hopes or truths that usually restore us. Sometimes the present God feels distant. Sometimes we can’t write a treatise, or lecture beautifully on the nature of things, or gently advise a path ahead. Sometimes we can’t charge into battle, or trust the system, or even name the thing we need from a friend. No, we can’t do any of those things that usually hold the world together for us.
Perhaps though, we can wonder. We can appreciate a flare of beauty. We can create beauty (as resistance). We can accidentally be comforted by a God we feel distant from at the moment.
This feels like, and often accompanies, art. And so today, in the midst of wrestling with my own silence, I’ll offer the poetry of another. (When your own way is blocked, look around and find a companion. Mary Oliver is a great place to start.)
From “The Ponds”
…Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled—
to cast aside the weight of facts
and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking
into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing—
that the light is everything—that it is more that the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
From “In Blackwater Woods”
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.