Like many teachers these days, I am beyond tired, really ready for holidays. My voice is still not back to normal and I am straining it every day to talk to my students. I exercise, I eat healthy, and yet the body balance is still not there.
My difficulties, such as they are, are nothing compared to burdens that others have to bear. A dear retired co-worker is battling cancer and faces a difficult Christmas. A card was passed around in the staff room this week for those who worked with her, and we search for words to say. Simple ones are usually what everyone resorts to: you are in our prayers; our thoughts are with you.
Another co-worker is going through a difficult time and we all stumble for words or deeds that will support. One of my blogging friends, Bill Howdle, is facing an uncertain future with doctors telling him a stroke is imminent. Christmas is not always an easy time for people when suffering is thrown into the mix. For many of the students at our school, it can be the most difficult time of the year. You won’t hear about that side of Christmas in the songs piped into the malls!
In the midst of contemplating all these places of need (and now the terrible tragedy in the States), I was reminded of a
word that has given me hope. It is a word used in scripture: the word “nevertheless”. It can change a whole sentence or a whole context. In the original Greek of the New Testament, it is used after negative sentences, and serves to mark a transition to something new. Another way of stating it in today’s grammar might be to say simply, “In spite of all that…”.
One story in the New Testament illustrates the word. Simon Peter, one of the 12 disciples, was fishing all day and had caught nothing. Jesus told him to try again on the other side of the boat. Simon Peter really didn’t want to try anymore. He’d just spent his morning cleaning them. He was a fisherman by trade, knew the waters and his own expertise told him there was no reason to hope anymore. He told Jesus, “We’ve already tried.”
In spite of all the logical reasons not to try, Peter decided to listen to Jesus’ improbable idea. “Nevertheless, at your word I will let down my net.” Peter was shocked when there were so many fish the nets began to break.
The word appears many times in the Bible and I think it’s a helpful word to remember as we face the difficult times. There is so much suffering everywhere we look. There are so many situations that are beyond our capacity to heal or intervene in.
Nevertheless, and in spite of ourselves, God can infuse our lives with hope and direction. It has reminded me that in the midst of the negative and desperate situations of this broken world, a transition to something new is possible in God’s world. God’s hope is not a sentimental, gushy feeling when times are good, but as the famous theologian Peter Gomes said, God’s hope is muscular. God’s hope helps us endure through and beyond the times that disappoint or threaten to destroy us.
Last Sunday our community observed the second Sunday of Advent. Eldon is the one who usually does the centerpiece. It is some kind of artistic representation of what the morning meeting is all about, and after all the words have been spoken and the songs have been sung, this picture is usually what stays in my mind through the week.
For this particular Sunday, Eldon brought an Inukshuk for the centerpiece, those beautiful Inuit stone creations from the north. They are usually about 6 feet high and are made of stones piled together to look like a person. Amid the snow and bleak landscape of a treeless northern winter, this representative person shows the way. It might point the way to where caribou can be found, or which way the seal hunt is. If someone is lost during a storm or the white outs of winter, it points the way home.
Like that inukshuk, the scriptures for the morning were pointers for us, giving us hints of how we could be reconnected to God in a meaningful way. They told about people who were in exile and who had lost hope, and yet God promised them that “every high impassible mountain would be made low and the valleys would be filled up to make a level ground to walk safely on.” Where we see a mountain that is too high, God sees a road that is straight. When we are inconsolable or burdened, God brings unexplainable strength to carry on.
It is not logical, but despite all the bad news around me, I have felt a gratitude every day that defies explanation. It’s not like I don’t step over into the dark side, where I notice cynicism, unkind thoughts or a temptation to wish for an easier job, but nevertheless, I have felt a sustenance that I know must be the answer to prayers. It’s like some Mystery has been nudging me towards yes despite myself.
- I am worn out but nevertheless, love for the students bubbles up in me from somewhere and is more true than my passing symptoms. I know it is from the prayers of my community, and from the promise that God will never leave me to fend for myself.
- Focusing on scripture as I did course work for our Mark studies kept my thoughts steered in the right direction each day.
- My blogging friend Bill Howdle is facing difficulties every day, but I know from reading his blog that even though he “has his moments”, nevertheless, God’s love and peace is guiding him daily, trumping his difficulties.
- I see my students who are an example to me every day of resilience and spirit, many times despite circumstances that are unspeakably difficult. And they sang beautifully at the winter concert (here’s a video if you want to check it out).
- On Friday morning when Lyle and I had a sudden argument, somehow through sheer mercy, love and true words prevailed and we resolved things quickly.
I am grateful for all these Inukshuks that guided me through the week and pointed me to God’s hope despite myself. I can’t explain it, but I have felt very grateful.