January 1, 2013
Several friends have said that soon after they began their adoption processes, they felt like they were encountering spiritual attacks. Cars would break down, unsupportive family members would heap on the discouraging comments, household appliances would break long before expected – things of that nature. That has not been our experience.
However, what has rocked us to the core has been our growing awareness of suffering in the world. We haven’t had to look far. In the last month alone, headlines have been dominated by the shooting in Newtown, the gang rape and death of a young woman in India, and the closing of Russian adoptions to Americans (leaving thousands of children unnecessarily institutionalized). And then there are the lesser known stories like the ruthless M23 rebels fighting in Congo and the murder of a police officer outside of Milwaukee by her husband, an Iraq war veteran.
And we don’t know how to live in this world of pain and suffering and evil, of violence and atrocities and devastation. Really, how should we go on living here?
A Brief for the Defense
Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.
From REFUSING HEAVEN (Knopf, 2005)
I want my mind and my life to be about something greater than praise of the Devil.
It seems to me that our focus on the horrific may parallel the self-flagellation of the monks of old. Yes, we must be aware. There are horrors in this world, and let us not pretend otherwise. However, I don’t think we are to become so immersed in learning about and meditating on only the horrors that we lose all joy, that we ignore the wonders and the triumphs in this world.
My outrage about the needs of orphans in China does something real. It equips me for the fight – it propels me forward, toward my daughter, and it helps me to inform others and perhaps be a part of drawing them toward adoption. But the reality is that my outrage about what happened to the woman in India does nothing except disgust me with the state of the world. Does it do her or me or anyone else any good for me to fixate on those things? Probably not. But does rejoicing about orphans coming home to their families? Does helping to support missionaries working around the world and celebrating when they see growth? I think so. I believe there is value in delighting in the beauty of a painting or the grandeur of a snow-covered landscape.
I choose to continue to delight in the music that exists despite everything. Like this.
I choose to fight for the Lord, to fight against evil and for good in this world. And I know the End of this story. It will come, and He will triumph. Good will win. I will probably not see that in this lifetime, but I can be part of the fight, the pushing on of human history, and I can hopefully enjoy (and even be part of) the music. May my life have magnitude through til the end.