With the single exception of a weak moment in my oldest son’s kindergarten year, during which time the grade school manipulated parents into fundraising schemes by dangling socially advantageous perks (such as a reward trip to a water park) for only those children whose parents participated at a high level in the initiatives, I have never subscribed to any magazines. Nevertheless, I continue to believe, on some core level, that Ed McMahon is even now driving down the street toward me in the white Publisher’s Clearing House van with a check for one million dollars. The fact that Ed is long deceased seems to have no bearing on my conviction that the great Miracle, complete with balloons and a camera crew, is blazing toward me and just around the corner. I never play the lottery, and I actually managed to go to Las Vegas once without gambling a single dollar, yet I feel almost daily that some Jackpot Jeep Bonanza Giveaway has my name all over it.
My optimism, if that it be, is not rooted in experience. For, the truth is, I have never won a raffle prize, a door prize, or even a table center piece at the end of a banquet. My one “win” in a history of great expectations was a jar of Ragu Spaghetti Sauce during a game of Bingo. I cannot imagine now where or why I was in a position to win that grocery item, but I have a keen memory of walking up an aisle between rows of peopled folding tables and chairs, where I retrieved my award, only to drop it (perhaps because it was a prize of such seeming gravitas). The thing rolled under the folding tables for what seemed like miles while I pitifully chased after it on my knees. I was amazed that it hadn’t broken on impact, and when I finally caught up with it, I clung to it as might a mother, clutching her newborn after having snagged it up unawares from the path of a charging boar. I loved that jar of sauce. Though we never ate it, it tasted of possibility and promise.
These days, I open my email, and I find myself waiting for the good news. It mostly isn’t there. In fact, it is sadly nearly the opposite. The same thing happens when the real mail comes. I hear the stuff drop in the box, and I go with some strange anticipation that today will be the day that the Marvel is going to happen. Instead I get bills, credit card applications, church newsletters, stuff still addressed to my deceased father-in-law, and catalogs that have a limited assortment of “personal care items” wedged in the middle pages between pictures of costume-like women’s clothing.
I have to ask myself, “what do you think is going to happen?”
Now, dear friend, before you get too alarmed, I am not so far gone as to actually think anything is going to happen. Although, on account of an interpretive misunderstanding, I once answered “yes” on a personality inventory to the question of whether I see things that other people do not see, I assure the concerned reader that I do not hallucinate. Despite all of my intellectual lazinesses and extravagances, I am of frustratingly sound mind. This fact makes all the more relevant the question of why I keep that little spark of hope, or rather, why it keeps me. An old priest friend, having been asked how he was, answered me that he was basically depressed as all rational people should be. I understood him; I even agreed with him. Nevertheless, I felt excited the next morning when I saw the wet grass.
This condition of mine, and I do think of it as a condition, is a spiritual problem. It is a problem because it does not usually accord with experience. Moreover, it doesn’t necessarily make a person feel good. In fact, in my case, it can cause deep melancholy when, for example, I have been so consistently certain that today will be lovely, yet by the end of the week the evidence has mounted in the other direction. I find myself praying not that God will do something or even that I will be able to do something but that God will simply be God or, more modestly, that Good will simply be Good. I feel like such a confusedly hopeful prayer is akin to an ingredient in the fine chef’s kitchen, being simmered away until it has been reduced to its mere essence. Then alone it can be used. I am not sure whether that kind of hope is a pittance of a condolence or a giant achievement of cosmic proportion. I sit with this thought since on it seems to hinge a great portion of the answer to questions of meaning, purpose, and value.
This summer term, I have been teaching a course on ministry and spirituality. I crafted a course around the investigation into joy because I wondered in earnest whether the students felt such a thing as joy in their work as ministers. I assigned my students large chunks of time each week to practice joy in whatever manner such a task made sense to each person. I asked them to keep a log of their journey, to dialogue about it, and to relate it to materials we read. The conversation became so deep at points that we nearly forgot our leaping point, but one thing resonated throughout each person’s experience. Joy was the other way of describing longing, and longing was aimed toward and rooted in something much more foundational than any thing or person or finite experience in the creaturely life. Joy was the self’s alertness to the great Miracle, ephemeral and non-derivative, rushing to each of us and just around the corner. And, this, this insight here, for me, was and shows itself to me to be the true beginning of a genuine faith.
your little dove came today
my name carried on its wings
she found me in bed making
the loveliest reception in lace
and pink and fine dark ink
inscribed in cotton pressed
she carried me to Venice
just to learn your preferences
and it is my intent to say
I went, my God, I went
and all I had I spent was but
a feather’s worth of courage
Natalie Kertes Weaver, Ph.D., is Chair and Professor of Religious Studies at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Natalie’s academic books include: Marriage and Family: A Christian Theological Foundation (Anselm, 2009); Christian Thought and Practice: A Primer (Anselm, 2012); and The Theology of Suffering and Death: An Introduction for Caregivers (Routledge, 2013). Natalie’s most recent book is Made in the Image of God: Intersex and the Revisioning of Theological Anthropology (Wipf & Stock, 2014). Natalie has also authored two art books: Interior Design: Rooms of a Half-Life and Baby’s First Latin. Natalie’s areas of interest and expertise include: feminist theology; theology of suffering; theology of the family; religion and violence; and (inter)sex and theology. Natalie is a married mother of two sons, Valentine and Nathan. For pleasure, Natalie studies classical Hebrew, poetry, piano, and voice.