Hope and the Benedict Option
A comment by reader Anastasia made me realize that I don’t balance out my doom-and-gloomery about culture, civilization, and Christianity with evidence of why I’m actually pretty happy and, I think, reasonably hopeful. So, here are a few reasons.
First, and foremost, the reason for hope is that God exists, Christ is risen from the dead, and all things work together in the fullness of time for goodness and harmony. More particularly, Christianity imbues suffering and loss with meaning. Paul Claudel says that Jesus did not come to save us from our suffering, nor did he come to explain our suffering. He came to inhabit our suffering. This means, in part, that there is meaning even in loss, and that suffering does not have to be in vain.
What this means regarding the Benedict Option is that as bad as things are, and as bad as they are going to get, we can and we must hope because faith teaches us that “the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David has triumphed.” The race is won, death is conquered. That is not an excuse for dopey optimism, but it is a strong reason not to despair in the face of long odds.
Second, the future is not determined. We have free will. Anything could happen. I am fairly hobbity in my own temperament. I think of this exchange between Frodo and Gandalf:
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
So we know what we must do, even if the cause appears to be hopeless. You never know. You really don’t. St. Benedict was just this one guy who went out into the forest to pray and to serve God. And look what God did, in time, with his mustard seed. It could happen to us too. Or not. But we have to try.
The thing with me is that I hate false optimism. Hate it, hate it, hate it. I have had to deal with too much of people wanting to pretend everything is just fine, when it’s not just fine, and if they had seen reality instead playing let’s-pretend, the inevitable bad consequences could have been avoided or at least lessened. The problem with this attitude, though, is that my bias is toward pessimism, and I often either overstate my case, or read the signs too negatively.
In the end, though, — and this is where my hobbitishness really comes out — there is simply too much pleasure and goodness afoot to despairs. “The world remains sunlit despite its vices,” said Russell Kirk. True, that. As long as there are boiled crawfish, raw oysters, faithful wives, dear friends, good music, church on Sunday, bookstores, cheese, Louis Armstrong, France, and all other things that make life worth living, there’s hope. Walker Percy: “I like to drink beer and eat crawfish. That’s despair?”
What he said. Pray hard, eat crawfish, drink beer, keep singing. As long as you can still make a roux, everything’s going to be alright. That really is how I live.