“Stay in the light.” A dear Quaker friend often ends her email and voice-messages with this phrase—a mantra for a joyful Christian life. Ours is a positive religion. As Christians, we are called to be optimistic. That is the hope and the promise of our faith: at our post-baptismal recessional, we sing, “I want to walk as a child of the light.” Before Easter services, we chant “The light of Christ.”
Now of course, remaining hopeful is easier said than done. Inundated with fake news, toxic real news, and 24-7 tweets, we quickly become overwhelmed with negativity. It has always been thus; imagine the early Christians in the post-Golgotha darkness before the light of Easter morning. They did not know then that Jesus would be resurrected three days later. Indeed, they must have thought that the world had ended; it would have taken enormous faith and courage to peer through the clouds to perceive the sunrise – easier by far to just walk away from the cross.
However, the alternative to hope is despair—but that emotion is not a viable option: in the words of Nobel Prize laureate and Pakistani human rights activist Malala Yousafzai, “It is pointless to be hopeless…if you are hopeless, you waste your life and your future.”
Now, hopefulness does not require a saccharine, Pollyannish outlook nor adherence to the discredited Social Gospel. Positivity in and of itself brings us neither wealth, nor fame, nor popularity. Microsoft founder and CEO Bill Gates, writes in his guest editorial for the January 15, 2018, issue of Time, “Being an optimist doesn’t mean you ignore tragedy and injustice. It means you’re inspired to look for people making progress on those fronts, and to spread that progress more widely.”
Although triumph over death lies at the heart of our Christian theology, choosing optimism and action in the face of adversity still requires faith. Lying in bed for a week in a darkened room at Georgetown Hospital following kidney failure last spring, I felt depression, doubt and exhaustion. But thanks be to God, I knew that He was with me. I felt the prayers of my family and my St. John’s family; friends all over the country were praying for me.
On about the third day, a sliver of light appeared under the door; a ray of sunshine filtered through the drawn blinds. Once again, I was “in the light.”
Betty van Iersel