Commenting on a photograph of a cathedral taken by his son Micah, the Lutheran historian Martin Marty wrote, “The hopeful human spirit needs to soar, as great arches do; to be translucent and open, as windows can be; to be grounded, as pillars and foundations that provide bases and solidity are.” Marty’s words are an elegant reminder of the hope the Christian faith should give, as well as a reminder of how such hope comes to reside within us.
And how we need that reminder! We live in times in which many spirits are not soaring: the ongoing threat of terrorism, the uncertainty of the future, the daily reminders on the 6:00 o’clock news that violence still plagues our society. And we live in times in which people are not open but closed off: so much fear and suspicion, the deep divisions, diatribe rather than dialog ruling the day. And often the very ground beneath our feet doesn’t feel solid or firm at all, as if the ground itself is moving, shaking, about to give way: sudden illness, hard deaths, so much beyond our control. How we need Marty’s reminder of hope!
Of course you would think that Christians, believers, wouldn’t need such a reminder. But the strange and disturbing thing is that it seems that Christians are more despondent and closed-off and shaky than anyone. You would think that Christians would be the ones voicing hope, but often they don’t. What we hear are scenarios of impending disaster, which cause people not to soar with hope but hunker down in fear.
So what’s going on? Well, go back to Marty’s image of the cathedral. To soar with hope, as great arches soar, requires strong bases and foundations set on solid ground. Could it be that as American Christians we have so bought into our culture and its values that our lives are really not grounded on Christ and the gospels, but on security, the American Dream, the promise of prosperity and having it all? Could it be that our true religion has more of the American way of life to it than the way of Christ and the gospels? If so, then our spirits will soar with hope only when the stock market soars, only when God gives us everything we want, only when everything goes ourway.
And to be open to life and the world and others, as windows can be, requires much the same: strong foundations and pillars and bases giving necessary support. Here again, if we are not grounded on Christ, if the gospels do not supply the pillars of grace and compassion and security, if we have not allowed the gospels to challenge our prejudices and overcome our fears, if we refuse to follow Christ out into life and respond to others as he did, then we will be closed off to life and new possibilities and joy. Christ and the gospels should set us free from ourselves, not enslave us even more within ourselves and our own little worlds.
The Christ we follow is a Christ in whom our spirits can soar with hope even in — especially in — frightening and uncertain times. He is a Christ who can open us to life and to others and through us work healing and peace. He is a Christ who can set our lives on ground solid enough to withstand all that seeks to undo us. Because he is the Christ whose light no darkness can overcome, whose Spirit no despair could triumph over, whose life not even death could defeat.
Our world, our nations, our communities need people with soaring spirits, people who are open, people grounded in Christ and the gospels — people of great hope who can point the way to hope. Let each of us seek to be such people.
God be with you,