Saturday, August 21, 2010

Petering Hope

A year ago I went to camp in the mountains with the students and faculty of my school. When I came back, my wife was gone. This was not a surprise, but it was a shock... a shock to walk in the door and deflate onto a hard, weathered wooden chair by the dining room table in the now-cavernous emptiness of our house - of my house.

It has been the worst of years; and it has been the best. Forced by another's choice to face my ugly brokenness, I was able to find some measure of freedom - to learn the love of self that would allow me to forget myself enough to notice and love other people. In this year of paradoxes I have rejoiced in the awesome loveability of others. I have seen the human beauty that has always surrounded me and have loved in new friends the wonder of their uniquely-reflecting facets of the Divine.

This year has been a good one. I have smiled and laughed more than I have cried and cursed the sky, but I have to admit that in the past few weeks the grey tide has risen and springs of hope I thought to be eternal have dissipated indistinguishably into the unrelenting, dismal sea. The lonely passage of my birthday and anniversary have reminded me of what would no longer be, and despite my belief that "love wins," at times I have felt myself to be endlessly sinking into a bottomless funk. 

It was a bit easier three days ago, therefore, to retreat again to the mountains. This time there was no new emptiness to return to - only anticipation of the dull thud of the ax-blow as her legally-mandated year-of-waiting came to an end. Disjointed confusion was replaced by a hollowed acceptance as I prepared myself to recieve the papers I had always thought were impossible. 

It was in that frame of mind that I entered the meeting hall of the retreat center on the second night of our stay to hear a concert by Andrew Peterson of Nashville, Tennessee. I have to admit that I was none too optimistic - as an artist there is very little explicitly "Christian" music that I do not find offensive for its saccharine dishonesty and poor craftsmanship, and I did not relish the thought of spending an hour and a half in a packed hall feeling sorry for the guy as hundreds of teenagers (who generally have better tastes than their elders) grew more and more restless and distracted.

I need not have worried. 

Andrew is a masterful storyteller, a consummate performer, and a gifted artist. He held those kids in his thrall with anecdotes, humor, and musical wisdom. At the end they were begging for more and I... I just sat there, crying. I did not know for sure why that was, but perhaps it was because what he was singing about more than anything else was hope (more, even, than the evil mind-control conspiracy that is Peruvian-Mexican cheese dip). He told story after story of hope in a way that did not attempt to gloss over the often excruciating impossibility of it. He sang of brokenness, weakness and despair. He admitted failure. And as I sat there crying, wondering where my grace was and why the love-against-odds of his stories seemed so absent in my life, I remembered that I was surrounded by colleagues and students who had loved me through this most ugliest of years.

Between two of his songs, Peterson began talking about the Lord of the Rings and the determination of the impossibly outmatched Hobbits. He related how in one of his darkest moments, Samwise Gamgee looked up through a break in the dark clouds and drew hope from the untouchable beauty of a distant star. Peterson went on to add that despair is not just wrong - it is a mistake - because it presupposes that I, the sufferer, know the end of the story... that I somehow know for sure that there is no chance whatsoever for things to be made well.  

My sorrow did not evaporate. My life was not fixed. But hope, for a while forgotten, peeked once again through a gap in the darkness and loaned me the courage to go on.

2 comments:

  1. I needed to read this and see this video today more than you know. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Andrew Peterson's "Behold the Lamb of God" is one of the only Christmas albums (along with Sufjan Steven's Christmans EPs) that I would listen to when I used to celebrate Christmas.

    Who else includes the "begats" in the Christmas story? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOXeUAZjppI

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