Collapsing into … Joy – Delivering Dark Hope #8
David R. Weiss – August 5, 2021
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This is #8 in an 8-essay series in which I’ve been thinking out loud and on the run about what it means to be church (or any authentic human community) … in a time of approaching ecological-social collapse. I’ll develop many of these thoughts further in the future; this is just an overview of sorts. (Here are links to essay #1, essay #2, essay #3, essay #4, essay #5, essay #6, and essay #7. Each treats a different facet of the larger project, but there is a narrative arc to them. I encourage you to read them in order when possible.)
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Dark Hope: a hope that is fully alongside us in the unpredictable tumult ahead. Indeed, not a hope that “shines in the darkness,” but a hope that abides as darkness itself.
Margaret is my faithful editor. She is also my beloved spouse, dearest friend, life companion, playmate, and more. But she is not least the first pair of eyes to read most of my words (and catch most of my typos) before I hit “publish.”
Last night was no exception. When I finished “Children … of Collapse,” I gave it to her to read. These are our six children (we conceived none of them together, but we hold them all together in our hearts) and our nine grandchildren. Usually she will mark the mistakes, and often add comments in the margin (Wow! Yes! Powerful! Or longer remarks). I sometimes hear her audibly sigh in sync with those marginal notations.
Last night she read in silence. Then, without saying a word, she came and held me, and we hugged one another at the terrible truth I had written. There was no joy. More a breathless sense of awe at the words that occasionally move through me on their way into the world. And an awful sense of foreboding at the words themselves.
Per the rhythm of our life, Margaret headed to bed a couple hours before me. While she slept I sat on the floor at the foot of the bed and wrote a love note for her to find in the morning:
“This reading, listening, thinking, and writing that I’m doing these days takes a toll on me. Amid the ‘euphoria’ of words well-crafted … is the weight they bear. I would be lost without you. It’s been 40 years since I read Camp Concentration (Thomas Disch, 1968). I only vaguely recall the plot—but the closing lines are still vivid. All the more so these days: ‘Much that is terrible we do not know. Much that is beautiful we shall yet discover. Let’s sail together till we come to the edge.’ Margaret, how much I love you!” ~David
Ten days ago I began these essays … on a whim. Of sorts. The sort of whim that appears in the Christian feminist phrase “God’s fierce whimsy.” A colleague posted a challenge: to imagine what change, transformation, gestation can occur in ten days. All these thoughts—nearly 11,000 words now!—have been brooding in my heart-mind for months. Then this sister in the holy work of justice-making sort of dared me—on a whim—to open that door for ten days and invite these words to come forth. A holy whim then.
Do you thank someone for that? I’m not sure she had any idea what this challenge would ask of me. I’m not sure I did either. I sensed the simmering inside, the clawing in my mind, the twisting in my heart, the screeching in my gut. I sensed these things enough to know I was not eager to open the door. Now the door is not just open, it’s off its hinges—in splinters, I fear. Thanks … I guess.
Anyway, I promised Joy on this last day. Here’s what I got.
Praxis names the intentional communal circle of doing-reflecting-doing-reflecting-doing. In base Christian communities (lay-centered small groups focused on study-discussion-practice of core biblical themes, first seen in Latin America in the late 1960s) praxis helped birth liberation theology, leading ordinary Christian peasants to do-reflect-do-reflect-do the Bible as they read it together.
Dark Hope will be like that. Exactly. We’ll do-reflect-do-reflect-do (where “doing” means the sort of things I noted in my “Faith Fit for Collapse” piece: gratitude, awe, lament, empathy, compassion, and liminality. And that doing—perhaps not immediately, but soon (which is to say, soon enough)—will birth Joy.
King said, “The time is always right to do good.” We like to believe we have all the time in the world. And that when we get around to it, we will do right by the climate. But I say there is no time left to avert collapse. None. King replies even louder, “The time is always right to do good.” We’re not arguing; it’s a call-and-response. We’re both right.
I imagine collapse will arrive as Jesus put it, “like a thief in the night.” We won’t be “ready.” Ever. Unless we’re doing right. So, I say, don’t fret over much about collapse. Be attentive, yes. But be in your life as fully as you can. And fill that life with choices worthy of Joy.
Which is not the same as the selfish pursuit of wealth or stuff or power or cheap fun. Joy is that which affirms life and value to all that is, even if it is quirkily so just for you. If you teach or cook or heal or build or manage or nurse or write or whatever you do, do it with as much heart as you can. Because anything that builds up the whole of humanity now is of priceless worth. And whatever brings you happiness, so long as it doesn’t come at the expense of another’s suffering, savor that happiness. We don’t have all the time in the world. All the time we have left in the world … is NOW. So live.
I think of the gospel writer John and his interesting notion of eternal life. Scholars call it “realized eschatology”; it’s a fancy way of saying that John pulls the “last things” (eschatoi) into this present moment (it’s “realized” right now). He is 100% convinced—he doesn’t “argue” this, he announces it: eternal life begins now. I don’t know whether John had a vibrant notion of heaven (most Jews don’t, and John was a deeply Jewish gospel writer), but it’s clear that he had a profoundly vibrant notion of life in the wake of Jesus. It was life that ran infinitely deep, fearlessly so, and life that had no need to wait for death in order to become eternal. To fill the NOW brimful and more.
John is also the gospel writer who gives us a cosmic Christology. Seemingly disinterested in shepherds or Magi, angels or stars, he says, “In the beginning was the Word.” And “all things came into being through this Word.” John audaciously suggests that in Jesus’ life we behold an incarnate echo of the Big Bang. John calls that echo Love. And Jesus commends it to us as his signature deed. “By this people will know you are my followers: that you love one another.”
We could use a little realized eschatology today. Love fiercely and fully and widely and deeply. And you will know the taste of eternal life: Joy.
That Joy may feel a little thin right now. Because, likely as much for you as for me, this news of collapse is a bit of an emotional shit show when it first hits you. But praxis. Do-reflect-do-reflect-do some more. It is the mundane—done with deep intention, done together, done with love—that, by the same sacred alchemy that powered the original Big Bang, is yet able to make miracles. To bring Joy.
We’re heading into some pretty severe turbulence. And time is short. So, stitch together, with others around you, a whole bunch of gratitude, lament, empathy, compassion, and liminality. Do so with love. And I promise, no matter what comes our way, Julian of Norwich’s words will ring true: “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” That’s Joy.
One of my former Hamline students (Annika Rutenbeck, 2004) wrote in a journal entry I’ve always remembered: God is at the mercy of our good doings. That’s holy wisdom. As our ecosystem collapses and our social fabric frays … and tears, we will wonder, “Where is God in all of this?!” And I think Annika has it just right: in our good doings. God is there. And so is Joy.
Be there, too.
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David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community Supported Theology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.