I’ve remarked here before that I am, by nature, a bit of a pessimist. I’m not particularly proud of this, but my default position seems to be to see the glass half-empty. I tend to expect the worst in life, for myself and for those I love, as a kind of protective mechanism—this, despite the fact that this strategy has proved to protect me from precisely nothing and, in fact, almost certainly closes off certain possibilities for joy and peace. Just this morning, in a conversation with someone about a person of mutual interest, I responded to an expression of hope and optimism in with something like, “yeah, well I’ll believe it when I see it.”
Half-empty… Always, half-empty. Sigh.
Later this morning, mere minutes from the above conversation where I yet again dumped cold water on someone’s optimism, I came across a wonderful article by Kelly Foster over at Good Letters: The Image Blog called “Reckoning the Marvellous” that beautifully expresses much of my own experience and aspirations as a “pessimist-who-really-wants-to-more-optimistic-or-at-least-realistic-enough-to-unreservedly-embrace-some-goodness-now-and-then.” It’s a meditation on “straightening up,” shifting perspective, and changing the posture one takes in a world containing both darkness and light.
You should read the whole article, but here are a few passages that really stood out to—and rebuked!—me this morning. First, Foster quotes a magnificent passage from a 1995 Nobel Prize acceptance speech by Seamus Heaney called “Crediting Poetry“:
It is difficult at times to repress the thought that history is about as instructive as an abattoir…. As writers and readers, as sinners and citizens, our realism and our aesthetic sense make us wary of crediting the positive note…. Which is why for years I was bowed to the desk like some monk over his prie-dieu, some dutiful contemplative pivoting his understanding in an attempt to bear his portion of the weight of the world, knowing himself incapable of heroic virtue or redemptive effect, but constrained by his obedience to his rule to repeat the effort and the posture. Blowing up sparks for meagre heat…. Then finally and happily, and not in obedience to the dolorous circumstances of my native place, but in despite of them, I straightened up. I began a few years ago to try to make space in my reckoning and imagining for the marvelous as well as the murderous.
What a wonderful way to put it—making space in our reckoning and in our imaginations for the marvelous! Not merely reacting, not simply responding to the people and events and words and actions that come at us each day, but making space for the extraordinary and the extraordinarily good.
And then this, in the context of a story about desperately praying for a happy ending in the case of an adoption:
I could even see myself clinging desperately to my own vigilant anxieties as if they could buoy me or conversely, as if remaining anxious and vigilant would somehow communicate to God, as if he was unaware, my utter seriousness and desperation for the need for a happy ending in this case.
I could almost see myself physically holding the tension, grasping after it, squeezing it in my hands, clutching it to my chest. I could almost envisage my anxiety as a pulsating cloud, a more powerful force for good or for a solid outcome than God.
My boyfriend, who is about as gracious and empathetic a human as you will ever meet, made a simple but profound point when I confessed my panicked visions to him.
“Maybe we have to make space in prayer for the belief that good things happen too,” he said, kindly, kissing my forehead and putting his arm around my shoulder.
Maybe we do. Maybe we have to surrender to that which is infinitely higher, better, and wiser than us.
Maybe we will do it kicking and screaming.
But I wonder what it would be like to surrender to love like that, to trust it fully and finally, to find the energy in swimming with that stronger current rather than always against it, to be always looking back, second-guessing, doubtful and unsure—to dive into rivers of mercy confident of being carried, thriving as they split the land ahead, overflowing their banks, making fertile space for all the marvelous yet to be reckoned.
I wonder too. What a beautiful constellation of images—overflowing rivers of mercy, fertile spaces, swimming along, being carried with confidence, anticipating “the marvelous yet to be reckoned.” Surrender, trust, straightening up, making space—maybe even kicking and screaming.
Who knows, perhaps the marvelous in some sense requires our reckoning. Maybe it waits for us to make the first move.
Image courtesy of Russell Berg at Seeing Berg. On a bone-chilling prairie winter morning that has many grumbling and complaining, I am choosing to “make space” for the marvelous :).