On Optimism

Here are the readings for today.Kids' toys thrown out on the street. Welcome to 2010.

Is 60:3

“Nations shall walk by your light,
and kings by your shining radiance.”

I find Isaiah’s sentiment appropriate for the New Year, particularly given that in recent days many have expressed a real optimism about 2010. But it can be difficult to hear this kind of optimism; especially when we are not ready to rise to the challenge it presents. Not only is it difficult to connect with Isaiah – an ancient prophet speaking of a future which has yet to materialize, as Israel and Palestine continue to trade rockets and lives almost daily – it can even be hard to connect with the general message of hope given by this passage.

Caravans of camels shall fill you,
dromedaries from Midian and Ephah”

It is far too easy for us to say that we face truly global conflicts today, which were undreamt of in the prophet’s time. A destabilizing Pakistan, a nuclear Iran and the fast-rising seas; a “jobless recovery,” the devaluation of the dollar and a political system which still keeps making the rich richer and the poor poorer. These are the problems of modern man, not of Isaiah’s time. His glorious vision of Jerusalem, like some Arabian-themed TomorrowLand, sounds downright quaint. What we need in today’s world is a lot less people! Or a lot more oil! Or a lot less pollution! And so on.

When we’re feeling uncertain, we often reach for familiar comforts: the love for our family, the love of a husband, a wife, a child. We search for answers in old standbys: that book we’ve always loved, the song we know by heart. But this is only one way to handle our fears. Rather than push it away or tuck it into a corner, we can embrace it. We can push into that uncertainty, that doubt. That’s why it’s there!

When we are searching desperately for a job, when we are worried about making that check stretch another week — these aren’t the moments to hide behind a rock and hope no one sees you. These are the moments to dig into yourself, to watch yourself and hear yourself thinking. Take a moment. Take a breath. Think: WHY am I letting this upset me? What am I really afraid of? Try to follow your train of thought, to listen to the tiny voice inside you that has something to say. This is the moment before change; it is a wonderful moment. Let it fill you with hope!

We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.”

THIS moment, this change, is happening to you right now. THIS is the change you’ve been waiting for. We want to see the change out there, we want it to come to us and happen for us but unfortunately life doesn’t work that way – not in this time, not in Isaiah’s time, not ever. Embracing Isaiah’s optimism is not easy. Yet it is very easy, indeed, to envision the “darkness covering the earth” and the “thick clouds covering the people.”

So we know that for Isaiah, his time was no different than our own. He looked around and saw a lot of sadness, strife, and tragedy. He saw a lot of people reined in by their own limited view of themselves. For whatever reason, we humans are driven by the demons of our own desire. And in times of doubt, when there is uncertainty in our hearts we give birth to both positive and negative impulses.

Christ is born; a new idea. The Magi come to praise him, Herod comes to kill him. This week, let us open to that new idea. Let us ring in the New Year with Isaiah’s child-like optimism. Happy New Year!

(For a cogent discussion of trending topics in global politics, I encourage you to check out Bruce Sterling’s annual “State of the World” interview at the WELL.)

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