Monday, May 19, 2008

When Hope Leaves


The sky is clear tonight, and the moon shadows the few clouds in the sky, looking down at me as I lean against my stoop. There's no reason for the melancholy that pervades my mood, no reason I can think of anyway. Is it the exhaustion of the week? Or is it the exhaustion of life? I'm not sure. Dreaming has its consequences, and while it lends wonderful moments that rip through us with an overpowering wonderment and joy, the reverse is also true. And tonight, for one night at least, my joy seems to be lost near the bottom of the river.

Such is the rhythms of life. That does not, however make it easy.

The street is quiet. Even the friendly raccoons who live behind my neighbour's house are not out tonight. It is an overwhelming sense that within my neighbourhood, within my busy house, all is quiet. I am alone. Ever alone. I try to pray, but I cannot form the words tonight, not even in my mind. God is absent. And so is the rest of the world.

When I was a kid, I used to get these moments when I felt this way. Perhaps it was one reason why I read so much, why I engaged my imagination. Even at a young age, it seemed to me that people inevitably let you down. That life was no fairy tale. I forgot that for a while when I first joined the church. I thought that somehow if I filled my life with "God-talk", all would be well. The years have passed and have revealed that time for what it was, more an episode than a series. On nights like tonight, I still long for those days. I long for the surety. I long for the rulebook, no matter how wrong it may be. What I want on nights like these is for someone to tell me how life works, and to stop whining and get "busy."

But then, that would be a lie, wouldn't it?

I pull my toque down more tightly as the cool wind slices through spring air. The trees rustle in the breeze, the new blossoms scattering in the moonlight along the street. One of the darkest secrets of Christianity is that no matter how much we believe in God, no matter how strong our faith is, that we will all have moments like this, when we wonder where God is. Where we wonder why he has left us all alone. We don't talk about it much because I guess it doesn't sell very well. How do we promote a faith that says in many ways, your human experience will not change. That you will still experience sadness. That you will still experience heartache and sorrow and despair. Instead, we turn Jesus into a cosmopolitan fixer, the One who will take all of our crap and pain and hurt and bad choices and somehow turn it into the pleasure dome.

The truth is that being a Christian doesn't save you from the human experience. If anything, it accentuates it. I believe that God is watching me tonight, that he loves me, and yet, I am lonely and inexplicably filled with sorrow. I believe that God knows this. Yet, nothing changes. Were I to break out in exuberant song or lament filled prayer, the pain would still exist. This is not easy to understand, especially not tonight.

The apple tree in my neighbour's yard is starting to blossom. It brings an unexpected smile. My housemates and I ate most of the apples last year, late at night amidst much laughter and goofiness. It's a good memory, and it holds me for the moment. But what do I do with it? What do I do with the good memories that come in the midst of sadness?

As a former pastor, it is here where normally an appropriate anecdote would fill the space. A story about the lesson I've learned. A story about how I learned that God really cared for me (and certainly, this has happened enough). But tonight I have nothing to offer. Nothing to offer God or the people around me. Even my soul feels heavy and silent.

The truth is that life is not an anecdote, and while it contains joy, it contains great sadness. Sadness that is sometimes inexplicable. To lighten it without facing it would be to lessen the experience and learning and depth that come with these moments. And while I know that I am filled with sadness, I know that tomorrow will be another day. I know that I will sleep in a warm bed with food in the cupboard. Many people long for that which I already possess.

I pause again under the still night sky. He is absent tonight. So am I. I can't sleep, and I am too tired to write. Too sad to know why. I climb the steps and head back into the house. Tomorrow will bring another day, I know that. But for tonight, I am empty.

-Steve