During the summer before my second year of seminary, I took an intensive seven-week Hebrew class. Summer language classes are tough, but the professor who taught my course was so engaging that I would estimate 9/10 of the students finished the class with a love of Hebrew that they didn’t anticipate. If prospective students were visiting campus, they often came to sit in on the class. I always loved wondering what these students thought as they sat in on the class – not only because it was Hebrew, but also because it was Hebrew being taught by a man who clearly loved the language, and loved teaching the language. One thing this teach would say to every student who visited was that “knowledge of a biblical language is the third most important tool a person can have when working in the field of ministry.” It was during the fifth or sixth week that one of my classmates finally asked what the first two tools were. My professor stopped, and looked up and sort of smiled in a way that said he’d been waiting for someone to ask.
“The first,” he said, “is a genuine sense of call. The second is a broken heart.”
I think about this a lot in my work, about the ways those experiences that have been particularly hard in my life have been the ones that allow me to empathize with people, even when their experiences are different from my own. I catch myself wondering how to allow that broken heart to sensitize me to the reality of the world as it is, and keep perspective on how it should be without letting the broken heart be the thing that defines my existence. How do I allow myself to be present with people in the abyss without getting lost in it myself?
I’m not sure, but I think laughter is a good answer, and community – even better is laughter in community. Hope, it seems, is vital for giving a sense of something that lies beyond the present struggle. This is why authentic community is so important – it has the potential to draw us outside of ourselves and our struggle, and helps us to recognize that the stuff we are experiencing does not have to be the only stuff we know. It allows us to put on a wider lens in a way, to see that what we see now is not all that there is, or at least to hope for it.
What is hope? By Rubem A. Alves
It is a presentiment that imagination is more real
and reality less real than it looks.
It is a hunch
that the overwhelming brutality of facts
that oppress and repress is not the last word.
It is a suspicion
that reality is more complex
than realism wants us to believe
and that the frontiers of the possible
are not determined by the limits of the actual
and that in a miraculous and unexpected way
life is preparing the creative events
which will open the way to freedom and resurrection….
The two, suffering and hope, live from each other.
Suffering without hope
produces resentment and despair,
hope without suffering
creates illusions, naivete, and drunkenness….
Let us plant dates
even though those who plant them will never eat them.
We must live by the love of what we will never see.
This is the secret discipline.
It is a refusal to let the creative act
be dissolved in immediate sense experience
and a stubborn commitment to the future of our grandchildren.
Such disciplined love
is what has given prophets, revolutionaries and saints
the courage to die for the future they envisaged.
They make their own bodies
the seed of their highest hope.