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.