Far stranger things

Memory as resistance.

At the edge of the park, there is a line of trees with twisted branches. I remember cycling past them the first January we lived here, wondering about their strange branches. They looked sinister against a grey sky. Now we pass them every day, but they are different because we’ve seen them in springtime. Then, they are remarkable, weighed down with heavy blossom, so full of light and the hope new growth brings.

Today, I stopped for a moment to look up at the thin branches, tipped with dark, winter buds. I wonder if it will be a good year for flowers but of course it’s impossible to tell yet. Warmth and light need to play their part. Storms might come that knock the early blossoms down. Or a late frost that stops them opening. Or maybe the wind will be fierce and scatter their petals too soon. Too many what-ifs, and today has enough worries in it. For now, I’ll leave the spring be.

Memory & hope

It is a cold, grey day, and as I write this column, I’m thinking about the other Christian Courier writers also turning their January thoughts towards Genesis and Creation. It’s a good way to start the year. The annual cycle can remind us that creation is a continuing process and that our remembering is an act of faith.

“Memory produces hope in the same way that amnesia produces despair,” theologian Walter Brueggemann wrote. In the same paper he suggested that the primary ingredient – and primary resource – of faith is “active, determined, concrete, resilient memory.”

Communities of faith are communities that resist forgetting in the face of loss, he says. What a powerful description! We must not forget the powerful acts of God. We must remember the goodness of God’s creation and the surprising renewal and redemption of God’s creative acts. In refusing to forget, we learn to cultivate hope.

Brueggemann’s quotation has found its way into many recent sermons and writings about hope because Rebecca Solnit included it in her book Hope in the Dark in 2004. In that book, she tells the story of activism and social change from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the wide-spread public protest against the war in Iraq. Reading now, it’s a slice of recent history charged with wisdom for those seeking active optimism today. I am struck by the way Solnit echoes the Old Testament prophets, creating a litany of moments of victory, moments when justice and mercy break through in this broken world.

Life will spring forth again

These past months have been hard, and there are many weary and cynical voices worrying about what is still to come. It’s easy to feel worn down. But pessimism is rarely realistic. The phrase in the title of this piece comes from the first paragraph of Solnit’s book. Looking into the unseeable tomorrow, she warns against anticipating a future that fulfils all our dread because “again and again, far stranger things happen than the end of the world.”

The ground can look dead, the trees grey, lifeless and twisted, but looks can be deceiving, and besides all that, we’ve been this way before. We know that God created and is creating. We’ve heard the promise of all things made new. Maybe this dark, this cold, and this continuing uncertainty is simply the rest and the waiting before life will spring forth again, created and renewed in surprising ways.

Happy New Year.


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