Without a doubt, one of the most challenging aspects of becoming any sort of activist, no matter the cause, is to remain hopeful. I think that challenge becomes even more difficult when you’re working and hoping for systemic change, because the system always seems to win. I’ve come to believe wholeheartedly that we cannot do great things, only small things with great love (fr. Mother Teresa), and that we are called to be faithful not successful.
Tonight I was struck with the potential for hopelessness as I listened to someone at dinner go on and on about how awful the world seems to be. The anger, the frustration, the desperation of someone who tries to look beyond the present but only sees a dismal future is a trying thing to hear, and it really tugs at my sometimes lack of passion and discomfort with the system. I think I’ve become so used to not being satisfied with the system that it fails to anger me sometimes, it fails to stir up my own sense of injustice. I certainly believe with Richard Rohr that the best criticism of the bad is practice of the better, yet zeal for justice does require a certain amount of holy anger. It needs good direction and guidance lest it turn into apathy and bitterness, but for sure, a strong sense of injustice is a requirement for good social action.
This brother was angry. Tired of giving in, tired of a system that says right is wrong and wrong is right. You could tell, just listening to him, that he wanted to love, and felt like he loved everyone, didn’t want to judge or hate people for being sucked into a system. My heart went out to him because I can’t imagine with all the energy he has for anger, dispair, and feelings of oppression that he has much energy left to love. Because we must love, love with everything we have. “Put love where there is no love, and you will find love,” says St. John of the Cross. Love takes energy, and true love requires a whole life commitment and sacrifice, and if our energy is diverted elsewhere, love becomes impossible. Without love, there can be no hope, and without hope, life has no value and no purpose. Love is the hinge on life’s door, the point on the top that spins, the theme of every melody. For me, for the Christian, the cross is the place of that love. It is not a love that takes us out of the world, but that plants us fully into the world know that we are working for the restoring of all that was once made Good. That which was shall be again, in completeness never known to us. That’s the glory of hope, that there is something to hope for, when the earth shall be made new.
At our house here at the CAC, we have a prayer labyrinth that looks like this:
You may notice that there is a cross on the ground, and it is off-center from the center point of the labyrinth. One way of doing this labyrinth is to follow the path, thinking of your life in 7 parts. For each “turn” of the labyrinth, you consider a section of your life, noticing that at some points on the path you seem to be drawn closer to the cross and at others you are walking away, yet the whole time you are being drawn to the Center, the Divine. I find this to be a pretty good way of doing the labyrinth, and it has some pretty powerful aspects to it.
But what I really came away with from our exercise was the realization that in order to keep the cross in full view, I had to keep turning mid-path. I couldn’t just wait until the path turned me again walking toward the cross, I had to turn and walk backwards half of the time if I wanted to keep the cross, that ultimate example of perfect love for God and for neighbor, before me. Walking backwards meant stumbling at times and being on unsure footing, which is a perfect metaphor for the life of sacrificial discipleship. Keeping the cross in full view requires daily conversion, daily turning towards God. Schools for Conversion does a session on turning, and turning, and turning over and over, like Zaccheus in the Bible. He turns several times in the same story, as he draws closer to Christ.
The other major revelation for me was the irony and paradox of the cross being the true Center. The Divine pole in the middle of the labyrinth isn’t the true center. The cross is the perfect paradox because it is the Center that seems off-center, the Center that life doesn’t seem to revolve around. Yet the cross is the anchor, the true Still Point of our lives and our world, which is why we must choose to turn and face it. Like so much of the mystery of faith, Christ seems to be a paradox, the one who offers life through death, both his own and our own, who says that we gain by losing, and we gain life by giving it away. We are blessed when poor and oppressed, cursed when we are the Rich. And, again, Christ is the center, because it is we who must choose to orient our lives around that center instead of letting life draw us in circles and paths that lead to a distant, vague and abstract existence. The cross is definitive reality, all else is but a shadow. If we take the perspective that Christ is the center, then the rest of the world as we know it seems upside down, disorienting if we put our eyes on something else. Imagine trying to walk that labyrinth regarding the cross as the center. It seems impossible, but if you orient yourself correctly, all the other paths will suddenly seem to be misleading. Yet at the foot of the cross, we come and we take on our cross, our death experience that we might have life to the full, and hope to the full, that the renewed heavens and earth has a tangible and tasteable reality.