Hope, Part 1: The Four-Letter Word

Hope for a Cure

Another Labor Day has come and gone and with it, for me, vague feelings of nostalgia, anxious excitement, dread, and a kind of contempt for hopeful people. I was literally a poster child for neuromuscular disease. Here’s the proof on a national poster:

1980 poster MDA blog

And as Poster Child for my local chapter of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, in 1980 and 1982, I traveled the state of New Hampshire, smiling so long and so often that cheek-ache became a familiar sensation of childhood. The climax of my duties was to appear on our local cutaways of the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon. Little, blonde, smiling and dimpled girl that I was, sitting in my wheelchair, I would look into the camera, speak into the microphone, and tell people to help fight MD.

It was at the MDA events and, especially, the Telethon, that I was surrounded by the hopeful people.

People used to tell me, with smiles, sweet voices, and encouragement, that I should keep hoping that a cure would be found for my disease and that I would be able to walk someday. But, I don’t remember having this as a real hope… maybe more like a fantastic wish. My mother tells me, however, that I once expressed belief that becoming Poster Child for MDA would mean that I would be able to walk. We can imagine, then, the disappointment that I must have felt at 5 years old when I became Poster Child and remained crippled – my hope so utterly unfulfilled.

An Amused Cynic

Despite having my hopes dashed, I want to make it clear that I was not a bitter child. I was generally and genuinely happy, finding joy in little things and easy to smile. I don’t even remember getting my hopes dashed. Whenever people mentioned that word “hope”, however, I remember within me an inner smirk of cynicism. Those people who were fighting so relentlessly for a cure, rallying me and believing that I would be able to walk one day – those people were sadly and foolishly falling for wishful thinking. And I never wanted to be a fool like that.

Entering my teen years and throughout those years, I developed a vague, unvoiced dislike for these hopeful people, overly enthusiastic, sappily patronizing people, so full of wishes and happy thoughts that any fairy would swear that they could fly.

Hope became a four-letter word to me. And somewhat amusing.

Hope of Heaven

There was another kind of hope that was introduced to me at an early age, because of my upbringing in the Catholic Church. The Christian understanding is that one’s ultimate and truest happiness will be found in Heaven. The sufferings we endure in this life will bring us great reward in the next. So, I remember, as a child, being taught and believing that I would walk in Heaven. My mother also tells me of my reaction on first hearing this from my older sister, when she came home excitedly one day from religious education. I was about 3 years old. On hearing from my sister that I would be able to walk after I died and went to Heaven, I exclained joyfully that I wanted to die. Hearing these words from her little daughter, my mother understandably tried to talk me out of my desire by informing me that she, my father, and my sister would not be with me in Heaven after I died. Loving my family so very much and only feeling comfortable and safe when I was with them, I stopped desiring Heaven.

That explains a lot, too.

Imagine There’s No Heaven

It is important to note that I have never truly wanted to die, for I have a natural and deep love for life, here and now. My general disposition is as a glass half-full kind of person. And I love what is real, because it is real. Not wanting to be a fool and not wanting to be cajoled, it isn’t much wonder that I became vehemently against the “comforting” hope of the afterlife.

“Poor thing,” people might say to me, “at least you know that you will have a wonderful life in Heaven where all your dreams will come true.” The hope of Heaven became something of a consolation prize for the losing hand that I was dealt or a kind of life-raft to which I was supposed to cling. But, I would have none of that. First of all, I knew that I, myself, was not a loser. Second of all, I didn’t want to cling to anything to help me “get through” life, as if I couldn’t hack it on my own. So opposed was I to this offered hope that it was one of the reasons that I became an atheist for a short while, around the age of 20. I wanted to prove that a didn’t need the vague hope of Heaven, that I didn’t need God to be happy. As John Lennon once sang, “Imagine there’s no Heaven – it’s easy if you try.”

Unexpected Cure

I have always loved the truth and will pursue it, no matter what. It isn’t that I hoped to find the truth, but, rather, that I was determined to uncover it. As an atheist, I really thought that I had revealed all the myths and fairytales and wishful thinking for the errors that they were, that I knew the truth.

But, the final discovery that I made was an unexpected and unwanted one: that which we call God is true. More on that story in another post. I have, thankfully, been cured of the spiritual deafness and blindness of atheism, although it was a long journey into Christianity. Now, as a believing Christian, devoted member of the Catholic Church, I still struggle with the belief that everything will be made “right” with eternal rewards in Heaven. By struggle, I mean that I don’t want to be coaxed into accepting suffering or into being good with the promise of some future treat, like a child. One thing I despise is to be patronized.

Now What?

But, if Hope is a theological virtue, then it can’t be a “four-letter word”. What do I do then, as a believer in Christ Jesus, with this thing called hope?

To be continued next week…

unpublished work © 2015 Christina Chase

“Can I Get an Amen?” Probably Not from Me.

Why can’t I say “Praise God” when someone is telling me good news? Why don’t I say “God has blessed me with…” in conversation, when I am sharing something for which I am grateful? Russell Wilson, NFC Championship winning quarterback, praised God and gave Him credit/glory for helping achieve the Seattle Seahawks’ victory. And it’s not just celebrity athletes. I see other people of faith, in my own real life, openly expressing like this, comfortable with verbal demonstrations of their faith. But I feel awkward. I’m thinking that, if I were involved in a romantic relationship, I would be one of those people who’s also uncomfortable with public displays of affection. That particular question is one that I’ll never be able to answer, though.

But, what about God and me? God and me. I just don’t talk like that. And, yet, here I am, studying theology and writing about matters of faith. Maybe I’m just a better writer than speaker. Maybe. I know I shouldn’t be hard on myself. After all, look how far I’ve come! Faith, like knowledge, is ongoing growth.

So, let me break it down and see where I am now:

(1.) I would never tell someone to “praise God” like a kind of command or exhortation. True praise can’t be forced or even cajoled. (Not that people who say that are trying to command or force, but I would feel like I was.) If it isn’t an honest and spontaneous rising from the heart, then it isn’t praise. What I don’t ever want to be, and what I don’t want others to be, is insincere or halfhearted.

(2.) I don’t feel right about saying something like “God has blessed me with –” because I believe that God has blessed, and is blessing, everyone. The reason that I am able to get through a difficult situation is not because of any special blessing that God has given to me and has denied to others who are struggling through similar situations. I don’t believe that God has favorites. Perhaps, at times, I am more open than another person might be to receiving God’s gifts – but that comes down to human free will, not special blessings from God, because God won’t force anyone open. God gives all of us opportunities to open our hearts to divine blessings – and then gives us the freedom to choose.

I do, however, believe that everybody, including me, is given, by God, particular talents or gifts that make each of us unique. Maybe I have been given a gift for words (maybe) while you have been given a gift for music or science or physical strength. Maybe God has given me a gift for the written word, but not for the spoken one. (Aha!) How we use our gifts is up to us – but God will continually be giving us opportunities, encouragements, and reminders every moment of our lives.

What I can say is something like, “This is just how I’m made.” But, that doesn’t give direct credit to God. It seems, indeed, that I am very reluctant and uncomfortable about giving credit to God out loud. Shyness is a poor excuse. I probably just don’t want to be stereotyped as “religious” – but, isn’t that like fearing Men and not God? And what if… What if the credit and praise simply isn’t rising strongly enough from my heart to roll naturally off of my tongue?

So, there you go. …Heavy sigh. Well, I guess we could say that it’s a good thing that I’m a Catholic and not an evangelical Christian, right? Humph. And yet, popes have even been telling us Catholics to be more evangelical – to boldly and publicly share our faith in Christ, our love of God, in everything that we do and say. Well, then…

I am, as always, a work in progress… and what slow work it can be sometimes…. Thankfully, God sees what is in my heart and is ever-patient with the lack that is found there, ever-merciful.

Praise God.

© Christina Chase 2015

Talk the Talk – Walk the Walk?

Eternity is not only about life after death, like heaven and hell.  Eternity is also here and now.  For, if eternity has no beginning and no end, then it’s already happening.  It’s always.

What do I do with this knowledge?  Do I merely repeat it, post it, preach it?  Or do I live it?  And how do I live it?  I had hoped that consecrating myself to the Sacred Heart of Jesus would help me to give my whole self to God and doing God’s will.  I want to be sacred, for holy use, dedicated to divine purpose.  But… What did I think that would mean?  Did I think I wouldn’t have any lazy hours anymore?  Did I think I would stop following football?  (I never intended to do that.)  Did I think that I wouldn’t want to watch funny shows or indulge in some clean, romantic fiction from time to time?  Not that these things are ungodly, but… There isn’t much that I can do physically for God and God’s people except pray.  There is so much cruelty and violence in the world, and I could pray for peace….  What am I doing?  Aargh.  Crap.

I’m not a nun.  I don’t mean that in any flippant kind of way.  I admire and respect people who are consecrated to Religious Life in Religious Orders.  To leave their worldly things behind and give themselves totally to a regiment, a structure with rules and routines designed to keep them mindful of God and devoted to doing God’s work – it’s sublimely beautiful.  Of course, they don’t spend every minute praying on their knees, or ladling soup out to the hungry, or sewing clothes for the naked, or cleaning the bedpans of the sick.  I mean, they have to sleep.  And they play, too.  Some Orders have basketball hoops or ping-pong tables or bicycles.  They go for long walks, chatting and laughing together.  But, all that they do they do for love of God, giving God glory and praising Him.  Not like they’ve got the basketball and are going dribble, “I love God,” dribble, dribble, “God is great” – that’s not what I mean.  I don’t know what I mean.

And I guess that’s the point of this post.  To tell whoever may be reading this that I don’t know.  All the words in all the languages of the world combined cannot write out all of the things that I don’t know.

Discipleship…?

Christina Chase

God Told Me to Do It, Religious People in the Media, and the Truth about Prayer

Saying that God told him to leave, NFL hopeful Adam Muema walked out of the combines workout last Sunday.  “(God) told me to sit down, be quiet, and enjoy the peace.”  By doing this, the running back prospect said that God would fulfill his dream of becoming a Seattle Seahawk.  One sports reporter, Matt Rudnitsky wrote in response: “I hate to mock somebody for their religious beliefs, but even Tebow never approached this level of ridiculousness. Skip workouts to sit on your ass? Actively hurt your draft stock? You believe in a benevolent God, but you think he’d tell you that?”

Because this story of one young man (who has since gone missing) is being connected to religious people in sports, and to religious beliefs in general, I want to share these thoughts on prayer.  As a Christian, I, like most religious people, don’t believe that God speaks directly to me in order to steer my every action, like in the Bible accounts of Abraham and Moses.  It might be nice if it worked that way (or maybe not, lots of prophets were stoned) – but it doesn’t.  Prayer requires much more deep reflection… God’s “voice” is much more subtle.  So, what is prayer?  This story and this question reminds me of a dialogue that I once imagined taking place between an imagined reporter and an imagined public figure who is also religious:

Reporter: “You went through a tremendous trial in your life.  Did you pray during that ordeal?”

Yes, I did.

Reporter: “Did it help?”

Yes, it did.  You know… Prayer has layers.  If you aren’t a person of faith, then you will look at the surface, which can be scientifically analyzed.  Research shows that people who actively pray, especially the repetitious kind of prayers, mantras, meditations, rosaries, etc., can handle the stress of a situation better than those who don’t pray.  It calms the person so that they don’t suffer so much from the tension, discomfort, pain, fear, and can even help the person to focus better and make more rational decisions.  As a person of reason I understand that – and as a person of faith, I also look deeper, to see the layers beneath the surface, and understand prayer in full dimension, in its entirety.  Sincere prayer, I believe, opens one up to something outside of oneself, a supernatural grace, a kind of divine assistance.  Prayer is a way of receiving a holy gift – be it one of clarity or courage or comfort..

Reporter: “So… When you pray, you’re listening to God speak to you?”

Well, what do you mean by speak?

Reporter: “I don’t know, like, you call on God and he tells you that everything is going to be okay or tells what you need to do.”

Well, life would sure be a whole lot easier if it worked like that, wouldn’t it?  Like the guy in charge, who knows everything and always wants what’s best for you, knocks you upside the head and says, “Hey, don’t do that.”  Or, “Don’t listen to the GPS, go straight.”  Or, maybe, “Here, play these numbers in the lottery tonight.”  But, it doesn’t work like that.

Reporter: “But, you do believe that God helped you, right?”

I want to help you understand what I mean, so allow me to ask you a question: have you ever been truly loved?  I hope so.  I don’t just mean in the boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife way, but also by your mom or dad, an aunt or uncle, grandparent, sibling, or your own child… or maybe a teacher or a really good friend?  When someone truly loves you, they help you out, maybe with their hands, or their smarts, or something.  But, they also help you, sometimes most importantly, by just being there… by loving you… by believing in you.  That love can give you the courage to do things that might have otherwise been impossible.  You become more able to be who you were meant to be, to find your way, to do the right thing, to reach your full potential, to be all that you can be.  Love is powerful like that – human love and most profoundly, I believe, divine love. …  So, you see, prayer is a lot like loving – it isn’t merely about words.