Hope & Strength

I think a lot about charity, in all senses of the word. That much is presumably apparent from reading any single post on this blog. As to faith, I probably think more about that than any other single topic in my life–if there were a competition in my brain for the most frequently contemplated individual word, it would be a close finish between “faith” and “serenity”.

Of the cardinal virtues, that leaves hope out. I have been struggling a lot lately, in a variety of ways, and at least part of the struggle is due to the attempt not to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the suffering around me. Many of the people I love most are in incredible amounts of pain right now, for whatever reason. And it hurts to see it.

I’m not a strong person. I get mistaken for a strong person a lot of the time, because I’m a loud person and I’m an outspoken person and I’m an opinionated person. But I am absolutely not strong. I say this, and I connect it to hope, faith, charity and the relative role of each of those virtues because I’m recognizing my “charity”–my activism, my outreach, my concern for others, my support to friends–as the mere surface of what matters. In order to have made any steps toward having faith–having faith in a God who can restore me to health, having faith that not only can there be happiness and joy in this world, I can participate in both giving and feeling it–I had to have hope that it was possible for something to be different. In my life as well as in the world. In order to behave charitably to others–materially, emotionally, spiritually–I have to have faith that, well, it matters.

The charity is built on the faith is built on the hope, but as I’ve progressed in my spiritual life, I’ve forgotten how to go back to the beginning of the loop, to cultivate the hope. My charitable behaviour is actually a manifestation of my weakness rather than of my strength–I can be loud and outspoken and assertive…when the problem is not staring me in the face. I can be mistaken for strong because I’m charitable with situations that don’t require me to really feel the pain all that deeply, to really be conscious of someone else’s difficulties. I’m good with empathy and I’m good with getting pissed off at invisible people who might be hurting these people.

But then I get to the pain that I see in the people around me, and it’s the kind of core, driving pain that has no obvious source, and I get to the stuff I’m struggling with in my own life, the stuff that is so deeply rooted and that still manages to find new ways to damage me, and I just have no idea what to do about any of it. Because I haven’t really even figured out how to hope yet.

My favourite quote from the entire Sandman run is when Morpheus is in the “one thing defeats the next” competition in hell, and at the very end of the exchange, you get the demon, thinking he’s won, with a facial expression that says “I’ve got you, I’ve trapped you, you are mine”, saying:

I am Anti-Life, the Beast of Judgement. I am the dark at the end of everything. The end of universes, gods, worlds… of everything. Sss. And what will you be then, Dreamlord?

To which Morpheus reponds:

I am hope.

It’s Morpheus’ face that makes this so perfect–he knows he’s won, but without the smugness of the demon. His victory is a victory that is something, but that only leads to more work. Because that’s what hope does–it inevitably leads to faith and to charity and yes, when it’s real, to victory. But in the form of work.

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of the work without cultivating the hope, and while it’s possible, it’s what makes me fundamentally not strong.

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3 thoughts on “Hope & Strength

  1. BetaCandy says:

    I don’t usually think in the three terms you’re using here, but:

    I totally relate to this.

    When I was 29, I realized I’d spent my whole life being tremendously, impressively charitable to others – for the wrong reasons. I never sorted it out quite (but I think you’re right – to cover up weakness).

    So I decided to stop helping others. Period. After about six months of that – which very few people noticed – I lessened it to not helping unless they appealed to me directly. No more dashing in the instant *I* perceived someone needed me. This forced me to live with myself and my own needs and figure out how to solve them. It had a helluva lot to do with establishing boundaries.

    I think now I AM strong because I put those limits on my charity.

    As for hope, I have a sort of determination that things will get good for me someday, and I’ve been carrying that around since I was 6 and realized things were not so good. But I don’t think that’s hope, because there’s a big part of me that… well, I have faith in myself, but not in the universe to ever give me what I’ve earned 6,000 times over because it established so early on that no matter how many times I did all the work, I wasn’t getting what I’d earned.

  2. purtek says:

    I’m sort of sorry you totally relate to this, but at the same time, grateful that you kind of get it. I have certainly periodically been “charitable” only for the wrong reasons–primarily so that people would notice me and appreciate me–I’ve also done it for slightly less obvious, but equally “weak” reasons. Like using the opportunity to hide what I’m really feeling, using it to pretend I’m stronger than I am–not for the sake of earning credit or anything, but just to convince myself, and maybe some important close by-standers, that it was true. Giving something when I didn’t entirely believe it would change anything and then not even really accepting when it would actually change something small. Which is probably what happens when I reach my existentially exhausted phases.

    As to whether the universe gives us what we’ve earned–from what I know about you, that would seem untrue, and in certain practical senses, it’s pretty untrue of myself as well, but, well…as you say, I think in different terms than you do, what with that whole ‘God’ thing in my life, and I don’t think I can do any of this anymore without hope and faith beyond just determination.

  3. BetaCandy says:

    Oh, I wasn’t saying I don’t need hope and faith. I was acknowledging that I think I’ve got my charity issues worked out, and I’m pretty sure I have faith in myself*, but do I have hope? No. And I need some, but… it boils down to being unable to visualize what you haven’t had. I don’t know how to hope for, say, financial security because I don’t know how to picture it in my mind. I don’t know what it feels like to be where I’m trying to get to, and I guess no one does (unless they’re hoping to regain something lost), so it’s a toughie.

    *I believe having faith in yourself is essential, whether or not you have faith in a god of any sort. I could write a very long essay on this topic, so I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say I believe faith in myself IS my spirituality, and I figure if there is a God, he’ll get that. 😉

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