Unfurling Life


Virginia Woolf once referred to the “infinite possibilities… furled” within a human life.

It takes an act of the moral imagination to recall those infinite possibilities within other people– especially when we consider people who are very different from us, or who might be our enemies, or whom we might fear. Sometimes it’s the people closest to us, whose infinite possibilities we forget: familiarity effaces mystery. The unfurling of another is beyond our control, so our desire for mastery is  frustrated by the uncontainable emergence of life; the unfurling of our very own selves also can be profoundly unsettling.

Stephanie Paulsell was discussing the Song of Songs with other scholars and students at Harvard, when the Marathon bombing occurred. She remarks how the careful attention to beautiful and sacred scripture (it just as easily could have been careful attention to art, or nature) is the precise opposite of setting off a bomb amidst strangers. Indiscriminate violence kills presently; it also kills that which is poised to emerge. On the other hand, carefully attending to what is beautiful and sacred is the way to discover and to upraise  the possibilities enfolded within. Loving attention is another name for hope.

To bomb anything is the signature of some spectacular human failure– somewhere and somehow– in the unfolding of God’s purpose for the world. While it may be that, in a fallen world and within strict constraints, limited violence is justified to prevent an even graver evil– still, to destroy represents a failure. Every human life contains “infinite possibilities” furled within.

Here is Stephanie Paulsell in The Christian Century:

When I remember the bombings, I hope I will recall, alongside the terrible losses and the heroic actions, the quiet work of love I was privileged to witness that day: a group of human beings holding in their collective hands a poem rendered sacred by centuries of study and debate, prayer and argument, hope and longing. I hope I will remember the close, careful attention of those readers who cherished not only what was shining on the surface of the Song but also what was hidden from our eyes. And I hope I remember to pass on to my students not only the skills they need to do such work but the conviction that reverent attention to all that is furled within a text, within the world, within the life of another human being is holy, life-saving work.

Something to Hang Onto: Affirmative

Maybe It Will Help

Kyle Whelliston is a creative guy with a good eye for the quirky and the sly. I enjoyed this from his notebook [link below].

In tough times, “yes” is akin to hope.

(Full disclosure: Kyle is a former student of mine, who went on to write for ESPN.com, and who is now living in Chicago.)

Kyle Whelliston’s Notebook.

Some Good News: A New Generation of Peace Between India and Pakistan?

Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna, left, and his Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar

Since good news doesn’t sell, this story will be under-reported: India and Pakistan are preparing to renew peace talks, which had been postponed since the 2008 attacks in Mumbai. With regard to peace talks of any sort, I am reminded of a line from T.S. Eliot: “we are undefeated only because we have gone on trying.” Which is to say, failure is only in giving up: never give up trying to make peace.

The excerpt below (with the accompanying link to the full article) brings our attention to small signs of hope. Such small signs of hope are as necessary in international relations as they are in our daily rounds. From the Christian Science Monitor:

A fresh face is bringing new optimism to one of the oldest international spats. On her first visit to New Delhi, Pakistan’s new 34-year-old foreign minister said she is hopeful that a younger generation of Indians and Pakistanis can find peace.

“A new generation of Indians and Pakistanis will see a relationship that will hopefully be much different from the one that has been experienced in the last two decades,” said Hina Rabbani Khar, Pakistan’s youngest-ever foreign minister.

One indication of that happening: Social-media interactions between the two countries are burgeoning. Facebook reports that their site is now logging more than 200,000 interactions between Indians and Pakistanis each day. That’s up from 70,000 a day in April….

via Pakistan’s foreign minister: The face of a new generation of peace with India? – CSMonitor.com.

Good News: Israeli Gives Birth in Ramallah Hospital

This item made me smile. For our bloodthirsty and voyeuristic mainstream media, this doesn’t count as news. For those who are serious about hope, and realistic about the small but significant acts of faithfulness necessary for participation in God’s redemptive work, this is the news that counts.

While this story is from the Middle East, the same kinds of stories are happening even now, close to home– it’s just that we don’t hear about them. Redemption doesn’t do good ratings, nor does it sell advertising:

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — “I was happily surprised at how well the Palestinian nurses and doctors treated me here, in fact I feel pampered,” new mother Nisreen, a Jewish citizen of Israel, told Ma’an Wednesday night after delivering her first child in a Ramallah hospital.

She had been out shopping with her husband, a Palestinian from the village of Sakhnain in Israel, when she felt intense labor pains. Rather than make the hours long trip back to Haifa through notorious checkpoints, Nisreen’s husband suggested they go to hospital in the West Bank.

Hours after the birth of a healthy 2.3 kg boy, the new mom received a bouquet of roses from President Mahmoud Abbas, who congratulated her on the delivery, and wished her and her son the best of health.

Officials reported to Israeli liaison officers that the woman had been admitted. Procedure appeared to dictate that Nisreen be taken and transferred to an Israeli hospital, but on her insistence she was permitted to stay.

“Nisreen is the first Jewish woman to be treated at Ramallah Hospital,” Abu Moghli [Palestinian Authority Minister of Health] said, recalling the Hippocratic Oath obliging doctors to treat every patient regardless of their religion, political beliefs or race. [emphasis added]

As an added bonus, he said Nisreen would not be asked to pay hospital fees, and would be treated as any Palestinian would be.

via Maan News Agency: Israeli gives birth in Ramallah hospital.

The Peace of Jerusalem– Direct Talks Begin Today

When I was in Jerusalem last January, one evening we heard an Israeli Jew give an Israeli perspective on the peace process; on another evening we heard a Palestinian Arab Muslim give a Palestinian perspective on the peace process. After the second presentation, my friend Rich said to me, “That was depressing.” I asked him why? He said, “The two guys we’ve heard are moderate, intelligent, articulate people– and if we put them in a room together to figure this out, EVEN THEY wouldn’t be able to come to an agreement.”

Add people to the mix– extremists on both sides who are not interested in co-existence– and you get a snarl of conflicting desires and stoked passions. And you get violence; and vengeance– and the vicious cycle of pain for pain. That’s what happened near Hebron last night.

The Middle East can seem very far away from us, but it’s not. What happens there affects us: as has been observed, the world is closer and hotter than it has ever been. A viable Palestinian state, side-by-side and at peace with Israel, is in our interest. It wouldn’t be a cure-all for the challenges in that part of the world, but it would be helpful.

Hopelessness is easy: the experience of the last 120-or-so years  suggests– and it is utterly reasonable to conclude– that peace between Israelis and Palestinians will not issue from the direct talks starting today in Washington. Faith, however, holds to a hope that the world does not know– that the world cannot know– because it is a hope grounded in God’s nature to break open new possibilities for life. Despair puts limits on what God can do; despair says, “I know the darkness, and the darkness cannot be overcome.” Hope says, for a start: “I don’t know. Maybe.” Sometimes that’s enough.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Holy Ground