As I noted two weeks ago, my intent with my June blog posts is to reflect on some of what I heard at the Spiritual Directors International’s 2022 Engage Conference in Santa Fe last month. As various factions push America (and other countries) toward autocracy these days, and those of us who follow Jesus watch others who call themselves Christian pushing something antithetical to Christian values (as many of us see them), it can be difficult not to fall into despair. Therefore, I decided to begin with this quote from Dr. Cornel West: “There’s nothing wrong with feeling despair.”
Of course, Dr. West’s point was not that we end with despair. Instead, we recognize it’s an okay place to start, and sometimes to dwell for a while. In fact, he reminded those of us who are Christian what we should be on “intimate terms” with despair because of Good Friday and Holy Saturday. His point is that despair is genuine, and part of the journey of faith. We need to be genuinely engaged with all aspects of our faith—including being surprised by Resurrection.
For West, when we are on intimate terms with despair, we fall back on our traditional stories and visions to reconnect with those who came before us. To my way of thinking, we lean on or borrow from the courage of those who preceded us in the faith: those who kept going in the midst of despair. Despair wasn’t the end, but a place on the trajectory toward finding the courage to act.
This is the point where I sometimes struggle. I can let despair drag me into cynicism and inertia. I can let my relative powerlessness lead me to believe there’s nothing I can do—which is never true. I can speak up and write about the issues that matter—as I do here. I can pray for transformation for those in power. I can write to elected officials to promote that transformation and encourage others to do the same.
Perhaps most importantly, I can spend time listening for the voice of the Spirit, guiding me toward other opportunities that I could not have imagined without divine assistance. Yesterday the church celebrated Pentecost, when tongues of fire descended upon Jesus’ apostles, and they spoke in languages they hadn’t known before. Perhaps, when we become intimate with despair and let go of what we thought we believed, we also let go of our assumptions and open ourselves to new possibilities.
Do you despair? Will you join me in embracing that stage in the transformational process, remembering that something unimaginable lies just around the corner?