It’s a messy world out there, isn’t it? As a second year seminary student, I spend a lot of time thinking about the ways we can best be with one another in the complexity of this particular time in our history. It’s not an easy question, but I believe it is part of what we as Unitarian Universalists are called to do and who we are called to be.
On Facebook, a friend posted the question, “What is bringing you hope today?” The current news cycle seems extra full of anxiety and fear and despair. In my discussions with people everywhere, it seems that many of us are trying to find a little extra hope in our days.
I recently read Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone. While I don’t love the ableist language in the title, Macy and Johnstone’s definition of “active hope” is one that has resonated for me. Active hope, they say, is a process; it is something we do rather than something we have. It does not require optimism and is not naive: it is honest, and requires a deep look at reality. “When we look at [our pain for the world],” Ms. Macy says in an “On Being” interview, “when we take it in our hands…It turns to reveal its other face, and the other face of our pain for the world is our love for the world, our absolutely inseparable connectedness with all life.”
Easier said than done, certainly, and yet I believe we were made for this. I believe this ability to hold our grief and outrage for the world alongside our love for the world is the only way we have made it this far. We need both sides of this spectrum: we could not know the depth of our love without the grief, and we would never be able to withstand the grief without our love. “It’s okay for our hearts to be broken over the world,” Ms. Macy says. “What else is a heart for?”
The authors speak specifically about a process that can lead us to active hope. The first step, gratitude, brings us into a sense of wonder for our world. It reminds us of what we love and the gifts we have received through being present and alive. This gratitude helps facilitate resilience.
The second step, “honoring our pain,” allows us to respect, welcome, and value our hurt and anguish as it reveals our care and compassion for the world. Accessing our compassion shows us our interconnectedness with all of life and enables us to experience our pain without fearing it.
Step three, “seeing with new eyes,” allows us to see the ways our pain is rooted in our belonging and love. We would not feel this pain unless we were deeply, inseparably connected to the world around us. When we work from this place of connection, we open to new resources (new knowledge, ancient spiritual wisdom, our own imaginations…) to envision a different future.
There is so much here to break our hearts, yet just on the other side of that breaking is the equally strong force of love. We are stronger, more powerful, more resilient, and more creative than we have ever been taught to imagine. So maybe we let our hearts, so full of love and grief for the world, break open. What else is a heart for?
In the hoping, loving, and breaking,