Updated: Jan 14, 2022
For the last two weeks we have been listening to our message series entitled, RECOVER: HOPE AFTER TRAUMA. In week one, we thought about different types of trauma. Last week we looked at the notions of recovery. Both homilies are on my blog on the parish web site if you missed them or wish to review. Today, we will think about HOPE. They were the first two questions posed at the start of our series: What gives you hope? Who gives you hope? And I’m sure that these questions had deeper meaning during the darkest days of the lockdown, and perhaps for many, still are very valuable to think about. Hope is a positive and potent spiritual practice with the power to pull us through difficult times ... like a pandemic. Hope is usually described with light metaphors — a ray, a beam, a glimmer of hope; the break in the clouds; the light at the end of the dark tunnel. And hope is often discovered in unexpected places. During covid, my hope grew when I first started hearing the news of a vaccination … finally, the antidote, … although for many in our world, that’s still not a reality. In 1965, American psychologist Martin Seligman "discovered" learned helplessness. He found that when animals are subjected to difficult situations they cannot control, they stop trying to escape. They become passive. Human beings can be the same. If one experiences devastating defeats, a persistent situation that can't be changed, or a terrifying event that could not be controlled, then it’s possible for one to lose hope. Covid brought many of us to that point. Hopelessness can take many forms even not connected to covid. Apathy or hopelessness may be puzzling to those around us. Why wouldn't one try to get a job, make friends, eat healthier, or leave someone who is abusive? When one has no hope, any efforts to change one’s life seems futile. When there is no hope, there seems to be no energy or motivation for therapy or for any effort to change the bad situation. Unfortunately, this painful despair and resignation set up a self-fulfilling prophecy. If one has no hope, no belief in therapy, no spiritual resources, that may well be the outcome. Today, God speaks to us in the scriptures through the words of Job. In our first reading, God responds to Job from a whirlwind ... This is the moment we’ve been waiting for. Will Job get to lay out his case before God? Will God tell Job why all of these terrible things have happened to him? Not exactly. The God whom Job meets for this, the very first time is somewhat disappointing. God doesn’t seem interested in providing answers to any of Job’s questions. Instead, God has questions for Job — nearly four chapters worth of them — and no apparent answers. What we see in the Book of Job and particularly in the divine speeches in this section is the message that while personal piety and virtuous behavior may be worthwhile in and of themselves, they may not necessarily lead to personal gain or material success. This can certainly be disconcerting to us — we all want the good guy to win (and benefit) in the end. It can also be a relief, though, in that it is a very clear statement that victims — of tragedy, illness, violence, poverty, and pandemics among other things — are not necessarily to blame for their misfortunes. Sometimes bad things happen and there simply is no good reason. Let’s connect this then to covid – some lost hope because they believed that despite their goodness, their faithfulness, God abandoned them, that God was punishing them, that God was holding them accountable for something they did or didn’t do. They almost twisted the phrase to read, if God is against us, we can never win, can never recover, instead of the hope-filled one, if God is for us, who can be against us. Another way that might be helpful in understanding God’s role in all this, looking through the eyes of Job is to focus on creation. Job’s catastrophe leads him to believe that maybe the world is, at its foundation, random and chaotic. Maybe no one really has the reigns and or is at the wheel after all. What is interesting about God’s response to Job is that through the many questions, God points to the deep order and structure in the universe. There is meaning. There is some underlying structure. There is some order. We can bring all this together, covid and the things that challenge our hope in noting that in a universe created by God and in which we humans live, the real challenge is how to hold these two aspects together, that — 1) the world is orderly; 2) and tragedy doesn’t always have a clear and understandable reason. In some ways, these two aspects show very different realities that exist simultaneously. The realities of Job and God collide, and they are both true. The fact that God responds with questions, though different than Job’s, also suggests that the dialogue between them is ongoing, open and unfinished. This might be the best news of all because it’s the same for us. Even in our times of despair, in our times of hopelessness, in our times of great challenge, even when we believe that God has abandoned us, the exact opposite is true – our dialogue with God is ongoing, open and unfinished, but we have to be in the conversation. Perhaps too often we can be like the disciples in the Gospel, crying out, Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing? And when Jesus woke, he asked them, Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith? My friends Jesus is awake now … he’s calming the storms of covid and the storms of our lives … so let’s work together to recover, to find hope after trauma … And let’s spread that message far and wide because the world really needs to hear it, and hear it now!