by Moe Lunn.
Where there is despair, hope.
Hopelessness. That’s the gut feeling. That’s what all the angst leads to, once it runs the gamut of guilt over not paying equal attention to all the atrocities in the world, fear over it-could-happen-to-me, anger over the ability of humans to kill so readily, sadness for the families of those lost. It all cycles back to a nothing-I-can-do style hopelessness.
While hopelessness seems like the most logical response to the news headlines, I know it tells too simple a story. But how do I actively engage in all that’s happening in the world without succumbing to it?
Maybe if I check Twitter a few more times each day, I tell myself, or make sure I have the right app sending me breaking news, or train myself to feel more emotion about evils happening in distant lands—maybe then I’ll know better how to pray or how to feel and what I can do about it all.
But none of this really achieves what I’m yearning for. All of that frantic activity seems to result in more despair, when what I want is hope.
Grant that I may not so much seek to be understood, as to understand.
Five days after the Paris attacks, I sent two paragraphs of my thoughts out into the social media world in an attempt to articulate the angst inside of me. I wrote about reconciling intense grief about the losses in Paris with the dismissiveness with which I scroll through so many other evil events on my feed each day. I wrote about fear, wondering if in some ways my grief over Paris is actually compounded by my own knowledge that terror could happen anywhere.
While those thoughts were (and still are) true to my emotions, they still left me erring on the side of despair.
A day later, I dug into this with my friend, Beth. We went round and round trying to figure out what we’re supposed to do when tragedy strikes distant lands. What news channels give the best reports? How affected by the media are we? How much time should we spend scouring current events? Will that inherently make us compassionate? Won’t we become calloused, exhausted, at our mental or emotional capacity?
I described a story I had read earlier reporting on the attacks in Beirut the day before Paris, and suddenly it started to set in. So many Lebanese citizens were expressing that, while they understand the West has a greater connection to a place like Paris than Beirut, they still had a deep longing for the rest of the world to pay attention to their loss. Lebanese doctor Elie Fares wrote on his blog, “When my people died, they did not send the world in mourning. Their death was but an irrelevant fleck along the international news cycle, something that happens in those parts of the world.” He explains the tragedy that then follows—that many Arabs consider their lives less valuable because there is no collective global mourning when they die.
Where there is darkness, light.
With Beth’s help, I then realized that perhaps there is something we can do when tragedy strikes across the globe—to simply know about it, recognizing that such knowing holds power.
Nearly every human on the planet longs to be known. I recall the innumerable times I have shared some struggle in my life with friends or with my husband, not wanting them to do anything about it, not seeking advice, but just wanting them to know, to acknowledge my situation and tell me they care. I’m aware they can’t do anything about it; I don’t even want them to.
The act of knowing and acknowledging—even only in prayer when public expression is impossible or unhelpful—could be an approach that allows us to keep hoping. It could lead us to empathy as we strive to remain engaged and sensitized. Knowing connects us with all of humanity; it is a means by which we can share love and prayers without injecting more anxiety into a very anxious system (the anxious system of our hearts, of our Twitter feed, of the world, and everything in between). And when we look at the world through the eyes of prayer and compassion instead of anxiety and fear, we just might see that thin line of hope running through.
One of the pastors at Jacob’s Well often teaches about what it means to be a “non-anxious presence”. He explains how when someone walks in the room, by very nature, that person will either add more anxiety to the room or relieve it. This has changed my perspective on almost every situation, helping me to better understand interactions I have with people in my life, and counseling me to strive to be the non-anxious presence, an attempt at which I regularly fail.
For it is in giving that we receive.
But I’m discovering that being a non-anxious presence can apply to far more than just how I behave when I walk into a room. Non-anxious is the way I want to be when I am having a discussion about global events, when I’m retweeting, when I’m pouring over the New York Times.
Describing the atmosphere of New York City, the novelist Evelyn Waugh once wrote, “There is [a] neurosis in the air which the inhabitants mistake for energy.” How often do I consume media, click the share button, argue on Facebook (or put a lot of anxious effort into resisting the temptation to do so)—and mistake my activity for energy? I think I’m learning, I’m engaging, I’m feeling. But is it actually neurosis?
The world is an anxious system, the media is an anxious system, and Twitter and Facebook are the most anxious of them all. The non-anxious presence I strive to be has to live in those spaces too. I want to know what’s happening in the world, to acknowledge the suffering of others, pray when I can, and provide calm in a place of great anxiety.
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace.
From angsty hopelessness to a calm intention, my heart has run the gamut in these past days of seeking what it means to care and to love amidst anxiety. I am learning to trust that when all I can do is know and acknowledge, that can be enough. This prayer of Saint Francis serves as my guide, leading me to engage with the world through the lens of hope instead of despair. Its words remind me that hope is possible, that light can be shed upon those things that exist in the dark. And so this is my prayer for all of us who seek justice: that we may be instruments of peace, transforming our world’s anxiety into hope for a mended world.