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Beware that one particular story buried deep, which has been brooded over, grumbled over, dare I say ‘cherished’ as the Great Exhibit in the museum of your soul to which you return like a parroting priest with one word. For you this exhibit may well become the final burial place of all your hopes and dreams and the final proof that all this world has to offer is despair. Of course there will be the consolation that at least these sad and beautiful stories can have the usefulness of justifying your sulk, and enabling you to romanticise despair in your songs and your art, thereby sharing the balm of your sweet despair with all and sundry so that they too can enjoy—in an adult way—the logic of the spoilt child, the eternally jilted lover.

Interestingly, when we follow the root of the term ‘despair,’ to it’s origins in Old French, we find ‘desperare,’ from de- ‘down from’ + sperare ‘to hope,’ conveying the idea of falling down from hope. Like any disappointed hope, rather than keep mentioning it many of us leave it out of open conversation. This ‘leaving out’ habit, like any habit, is infectious and before long your family, friends and even an entire culture can be a ‘culture that leaves out hope’ from its vocabulary, manner of speaking, and metaphors. And so it is that our culture has mostly closed the subject of miracle and wonder and lives like a ‘jilted lover’ nation drinking and enjoying the despairing wine of romanticised despair.

Walter Brueggemann speaks to this when he says, ‘It is worth considering a “sociology of wonder,” and asking who is open to abiding astonishment,” and who might be compelled to overcome, banish, or deny such astonishment? I submit that “abiding astonishment,” the celebration of enduring miracle, tends not to occur among those who manage writing, who control the state, who create and transmit proper “facts,” who monopolise control, and who explain by cause and effect. The experience and articulation of wonder tends to occur in the midst of oral expression, in simpler social units, among those who yearn for and receive miracle, who live by gift since they have little else by which to live, and who are sustained only by slippage (mystery) and gaps in the dominant system of power. The elimination of wonder from historical reconstruction is (therefore) a drastic decision to read historical memory in the presence and service of one sociological interest, at the great expense of a contrasting social interest.’1

The author suggests that our society has a vested interest in this elimination of wonder and “abiding astonishment,” because ‘In our modern experience but probably also in every affluent culture it is believed that enough power and knowledge can tame the terror and eliminate the darkness … The remarkable thing about Israel is that it did not banish or deny the darkness from its religious enterprise. It embraces the darkness as the very stuff of new life. Indeed, Israel seems to know that new life is rooted nowhere else.’2

Brueggemann also points out that Christendom is implicated in this denial when he says, ‘It is my judgement that this action of the church is less a defiance guided by faith and founded on the good news, and much more a frightened, numb denial and deception that does not want to experience the disorientation of life. The reason for such relentless affirmation of orientation seems to come not from faith, but from the wishful optimism of our culture. Such a denial and cover-up, which I take it to be, is an odd inclination for passionate bible users, given the large number of psalms that are psalms of lament, protest and complaint about the incoherence that is experienced in the world. At least it is clear that a church that goes on singing “happy songs” in the face of raw reality is doing something very different from what the bible itself does.’3

1. Brueggemann W. Abiding Astonishment p. 42 1991 John Knox

2. Brueggemann W. Spirituality of the Psalms p.29 Augsburg Fortress 2002

3. Brueggemann W. Spirituality of the Psalms p.26 Augsburg Fortress 2002

 

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