"I rejoice, because I have complete confidence in you." 2 Corinthians 7:16
"Interior with Open Window", 1928, Raoul Dufy
The experience of Joy leaves behind it an awareness of our personal freedom. Windows have opened for us onto a vision that we cannot possess at will, but which - having experienced pure joy - we now know exists; and the windows remain open, even if we must, for the present, stay within. Dufy's double windows reveal the richness of the distant world, its gleaming possibilities, its actuality. The space we occupy may be as in the painting, cluttered and even oppressive, but after joy it is no longer imprisoning. We have glimpsed something greater, something of liberating power, and we can have absolute confidence that there are no external obstructions to our movement out of limitation and into that freedom.
Let me introduce you to Kate.
Kate Bowler is a Historian of Religion in America. She teaches at Duke University. She's married and a mother. A few years ago, Kate started making a name for herself as a public intellectual...and then...she was unexpectedly diagnosed with Stage IV cancer at 35. Before, the world was opening up and everything seemed possible. Five minutes later, it felt like everything was falling apart. She still teaches, but through this diagnosis, she has written about her experience as a person of faith navigating the precarity of life between the poles of 'everything is possible' and 'nothing is possible'. She doesn't have any faith in the blind optimism that all adversity is a test of character. And yet, she has learned things.
Kate spoke at UVA yesterday in a free public lecture hosted by Theological Horizons, a Christian non-profit group that hosts conversations at the intersection of faith and public life. I attended with a few friends from church. The whole event was delightful. Kate greeted us with a "Happy Anniversary". We're working on three years of a global pandemic that we didn't plan for. Then she informed us that self-help books and videos on social media about primitive homesteading have done as well or better in sales, clicks and views during this whole season. You'd think we'd stop to have a conversation about the fragility of life, our limitations, and yet we seem to be stuck between these two poles of 'everything is possible' - a young couple lives 'off the grid' filming the whole thing on GoPro cameras and posting it to Youtube where they get over a million subscribers and Patreon contributors that are funding their experiment, and looking fantastic while they do it - ...and feeling like a total failure, a fraud, a loser, where 'nothing is possible'. Is it safe to stop wearing my mask at the grocery store?
Here is a brief snippet of Kate navigating these poles in her own life after her diagnosis:
There is a freedom that comes from being able to see the world as it is, and dwell in it with new eyes.
To inhabit a space where there are still things to be afraid of. Those don't go away. World War, Global pandemics, Cancer...but there is also courage.
Courage- The willingness to freely go beyond the call of duty, to choose the difficult thing, to take chances. Courage. Not just folly, recklessness, not just physical strength, not even just physical courage, the ability to endure pain, but moral courage, the willingness to act on your convictions even if it costs you something. Not the absence of fear, but love in action.
As Jesus was heading to his cross, he met with his disciples as part of what's called the "Farewell Discourse". He said to them-
"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart [Courage]; I have overcome the world.” - John 16:33
and then he prays in their presence. The kind of prayer where Jesus is appealing to the Father, but openly where all his disciples can hear every word.
"I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours... 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.[a] John 17:8-9; 13-15
What is Jesus praying for? I imagine it's something like this:
I'm not asking you to take them [Jesus' followers] out of the world...indeed....there is no divine parachute to rescue you from fear and pain. In fact, I want to make an appeal 'through' my followers 'to' this world. There is freedom, joy, New Creation has begun...but many will not want to hear this, they will accuse you of negative thinking, of trying to dismantle the world as they have come to understand it. Give them courage to face this without losing love...when they want to go back to some imagined 'before', give them courage when the world is calling them back or even pushing them. Help them face the future. It's ok to feel afraid but remember I have overcome the world.
Lord, Help us to see the World as it is
grant us the courage to love the World as it is
grant us the grace to transform love into action,
exercising mercy with ourselves and our neighbors.
Bring your Kingdom in all it's fullness, and give us your presence always,
as we lean into your promised future with eager expectation,
without trivializing our fear or pain.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,
as we remain in the world, let us be citizens and ambassadors of your Kingdom.