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In the midst of all the dire news these days, television commentators, newspaper and magazine articles, Joe and Jane Q. Public all seem to be concentrating on the power of “hangin’ in.”
Whether or not it is cockeyed optimism, it is hope-filled talk that uplifts our saddened spirits. We need that kind of inflation to compensate for the depressive downturn of the economy, the continued “bad news” of wars and rumors of wars, of greed and corruption, murder and mayhem. We need to know a determinedly forward-looking stance is better than nerve-wracking negativism. More importantly, we need to verbalize that optimism against all odds.
Recently, I read an abstract about a famous theologian, Yves Congar. He was a beleaguered man because he dared to confront ecclesiastical authorities with truth. Speaking truth to power is never easy, often alienating, and sometimes dangerous. But, he did it. He did so in the face of being silenced. He did so believing what Coventry Patmore said: “To the man who waits all things reveal themselves, provided that he has the courage not to deny in the darkness what he has seen in the light.”[Dialogue Between Christians, Yves Congar, London-Dublin: Chapman, 1996, pp. 44, 45.]
Despite his self-description as an impatient man, Congar maintained profound patience when it came to this kind of confrontation. It was too important to be lost in a flurry of activity. He believed people who are in too much of a hurry, who wish to grasp the object of their desires immediately, are also incapable of it. The patient sower, who entrusts seed to the earth and the sun, is also the person of hope.
“Hangin’ in” is definitely not in the category of hurrying. Its composition consists of the long haul, the process, the waiting to see.
Spring is a good starting time. It is the planting, hoeing, fertilizing period that looks with patience to a plentiful harvest. It’s the time when we cannot deny in the darkness what we have seen in the light of past harvests, former seasons of plenty. It is also the time to entertain necessary changes, to ensure the present darkness can, indeed, be pierced by transforming light.
Interestingly, Congar’s challenge, Christian unity expressed in ecumenism, remains ours today. It was astonishing for me to learn this issue has been on ecclesiastical tables longer than I have been alive—and it has yet to be achieved with any degree of universal acceptance.
Congar spoke on ecumenism in 1936. He hung in, despite persecution and silencing with ultimate re-acceptance, until his death in 1995. He hung in knowing that “What put me wrong (in their eyes) is not having said false things, but having said things they do not like to have said.”
He hung in because he believed the French spiritual writer, Pére Lacordaire: “I have long thought that the most favorable moments for sowing and planting are times of trouble and storm.”
The more I read, the more impressed I became, not just with the man, but also with the concept, with the hope, with the desire to emulate this kind of courage. It seems to me all of us are called to a life that demonstrates sowing and planting, raising consciousness of hard issues and empowering all to address them. It seems to me we are already in a favorable time for this to happen. We are in the midst of trouble and storm.
We are people who live in a country we call united and yet we are divided on so many counts. We are a people who, too often, remain silent lest others know how we think and feel. We remain complicit in the disunity of our country, our churches, our families, our neighborhoods through and in that silence.
Those are harsh words, I know. They scratch at my own soul and cause me to consider what steps I am taking to move unity forward and to dismantle disunity wherever I am. They cause me to ask myself to determine the depth of my own dedication, determination, and willingness to suffer for any cause.
The answer does not come quickly or easily. It is a matter of serious discernment and the decision to hang in despite all odds.
In Congar’s words: “It is a case where the cross is the condition of every holy work. God himself is at work in what to us seems a cross. Only by its means do our lives acquire a certain genuineness and depth…only when a man has suffered for his conviction does he attain in them a certain force, a certain quality of the undeniable and, at the same time, the right to be heard and respected. Suffering for the truth gives legitimacy to one’s words.”
It is also notable that “one can condemn a solution if it false, but one cannot condemn a problem.”
Solutions can be discussed, deliberated, determined, or denied. They can be whittled down to a few or many. There is room for argument. But, we cannot simply walk away pretending ignorance, carelessly apathetic, or steadfastly refusing to admit our problems. We must act, or face the consequences of our omissions.
Somewhere in the core of these truths lie our own reality, our own way and means to hang in with hope and trust, faith and courage. I cannot tell anyone else what to do or not do. I can only examine my own life. I can only probe my own commitment and responsibility. I can only accept the pain and joy that comes when one realizes that there is something powerful about “hangin’ in.”
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives [a trilogy of scriptural meditations], lead chaplain at Brunswick Community Hospital, religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer and grandmother of four.