Houston had been swamped by Hurricane Harvey, her recovery a gargantuan task. Irma was approaching in all her ferocity. North of her, U.S. meteorologists and their technology were predicting her wrath and her path, and thousands were kept informed by the weather channels. Plans were made for protection, evacuation, resources and responders. But a Haitian woman, in a desperately poor country in the eye of the storm, having been pounded again and again by earthquakes, cholera, Hurricane Matthew last Fall and no money or infrastructure for recovery, summed things up in these words: “I guess we are worried, but we are already living in another hurricane, Hurricane Misery.”
Spin the globe. Stop it anywhere and put down your finger. Chances are, you will land on misery. A huge hurricane of Misery in its pervasive circling of our world. Human misery, ecological misery, you and I know too much of its geography and its causes, and while not exactly indifferent or complicit, we are at a remove that leaves us feeling shameful at our own good fortune, and inadequate in our response.
We hurt for them, we pray for them, we donate cash, for we are unable to take them casseroles or shovel mud. We cannot physically comfort or cradle them, or speak whatever the right words would be to honor their losses and renew their hope.
We know our call and our charism, and seek to be witnesses to the truth and voices for reform, and ambassadors for peace. We also are aware of our physical limitations and the fluctuations of our energies that wear away at our vigilance, our resolve, our hope in God’s faithfulness and promise, and even our daily civility to one another.
I suggest that here is our mandate: Joy. It seems to reason the most unlikely of responses– both counterintuitive and certainly countercultural. But Joy is not born of innocence or comfort. It is not a feeling of happiness, a veneer of pleasantry, or the result of life dwelling on the sunny side of the street. This Joy is the fruit of the Spirit of Hope working in and through us, the gift that blossoms from other gifts–humility (an amused toleration of our own creaturehood) and growing Wisdom, who played before God at the dawn of creation. This Joy is the “most infallible sign of the presence of God,”(Leon Bloy) and we do it together by giving it away. Right here at home.
This mandate to be joyful and to share that joy is not about denying harsh reality, but taking a stance against fear and despair, as sign that God loves passionately and is at work in the world with a promise rooted in the cross and resurrection of Jesus and renewed constantly in the Spirit among us.
This week, along with the aftermath of hurricanes, we remembered 9-11, and will observe the liturgies of the Triumph of the Cross and the sorrows of Mary, a massive meeting of agony and ecstacy, which can only be held together in the unfathomable heart of God. And we assent in becoming, in Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s words, ”a reservoir of joy, an oasis of peace, a pool of serenity that can ripple out to all those around us.”