Each week, usually on a Wednesday afternoon, I go for a walk around the neighborhood. I do it for several reasons. The first of which is that it helps me to toss around the scripture text for Sunday’s sermon in my mind, and allows me to get some fresh air in the process. Secondly, it helps me to get to know the neighborhood, and the neighbors. I love it when I see one of my parishioners on my walks. Thirdly, it allows me a chance to pray not only with my mind, but also with my body, as I pray for our neighborhood while I walk it.
Each week, I am overcome with the same incredibly overwhelming feeling of despair mixed with hope. I despair because I see so many homes boarded up and posted as unfit for human habitation. I despair because I see people who are desperately trying to scrape by, sometimes being able to do it, other times falling short. I despair because I see the fallenness of our world. I am so thankful, though, that despair is not my only feeling.
I also feel hope. I feel hope because I believe that God can restore our neighborhood. I feel hope because I believe that God can transform our neighborhood. I feel hope because I believe that there is so much more going on than I can see with my eyes.
It is a very strange, and sometimes uncomfortable, mix of feelings. It is the feeling of being at the middle of a cross road and not knowing exactly where it will take you. I wish that I knew for sure that our neighborhood would be transformed and rejuvinated. I wish I knew for certain when said transformation was going to happen. But I don’t.
While I hope, I don’t know for certain that something miraculous is going to happen, and I don’t know when. I suppose that is what hope is, as Paul writes in Romans “…we hope for what we do not see…” This mixture of feelings is unsettling, and it burdens my heart. However, I think that this mixture of feelings is something that we all experience in one way or another.
For me, I think that it is the feeling of despair that helps me live in the real world, and understand our need for redemption and restoration. It is the feeling of despair that opens me up to something more, it is the feeling of despair that tills the soil of my heart to prepare it for new growth. Moreover, it is hope that allows me to continue on: to continue preaching, to continue praying, to continue walking with people. I do not think that true hope can exist without some feeling of despair, and despair without hope is, quite literally, hell.
This mixture of feelings, of despair and hope, I think, is the tention that we live in, the already but not yet, to use a well-worn phrase. This is a tension that pushes us to live and pray earnestly, “Come, Lord Jesus.”