Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California
Does any one need any more evidence that brokenness exists in the world? We see it everywhere: in business, government, education; even in churches, synagogues, and mosques. Brokenness also exists among individuals called to noble conduct: judges, lawmakers, law enforcement officials, medical practitioners, military leaders, religious personages, teachers and more. No level of society or occupation is exempt.
The Prophet Isaiah spoke in stark terms of the people who should have chosen God but decided to choose sin instead: “Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged” (Isaiah 1: 3-4). Jeremiah the Prophet said: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it” (Jeremiah 17:9)?
Hope is fostered in tribulation. We can transform suffering, build character and endurance by nourishing the Godly virtue of hope. St. Paul wrote: “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope ” (Romans 5: 1-4)
The Fathers of the Eastern Church knew that we cannot get through the periods of brokenness and darkness in our lives without God and hope in Him. St. Thalassios says: “Our Lord has given light to all men, but those who do not trust in Him bring darkness upon themselves” (Philokalia II). St. Maximus the Confessor wrote: “Hope is the intellect’s surest pledge of divine help and promises the destruction of hostile powers. Love makes it difficult or, rather, makes it utterly impossible for the intellect to estrange itself from the tender care of God; and when the intellect is under attack, love impels it to concentrate its whole natural power into longing for the divine” (Philokalia II).
Contemporary research psychologists have studied how individuals cope with tribulation have found that “Learned Optimism” (Seligman, 1990, 1995) is a major contributing factor. “Learned Optimism” can be viewed as applying the virtue of hope in our lives. It involves perceiving tribulation as temporary, and a challenge to find some meaning in it.
Another Eastern Church Father St. Peter of Damaskos said: “For God, as the creator of all things, knows our nature thoroughly and has ordered all things for our benefit... if someone wants to be saved no person and no time, place or occupation can prevent him” (Philokalia III). This means that there is no trial, or tribulation, no matter how insurmountable it may seem, which cannot be overcome with God’s help.
The brokenness we see in the world, often a source of despair, can be transformed into an opportunity to learn from the life-errors we and others have made which have brought about this corruption. Thus: Love of God and neighbor can motivate us to take the first steps in recognizing and changing, transforming, our own faults and brokenness.
Our victory over brokenness begins with ourselves in the voluntary struggle that must be waged daily. The words of Jesus set the theme of hopeful optimism: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
Palmer, G.E.H., Sherrard, P., & Ware, K. (eds.) (1981). The Philokalia: The Complete Text (Vol. 2): Compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth. London: Faber and Faber.
Palmer, G.E.H., Sherrard, P., & Ware, K. (eds.) (1986). The Philokalia: The Complete Text (Vol. 3): Compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth. Winchester, MA : Faber and Faber.
Seligman, M.E.P. (1990). Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. NY: Pocket Books.
Seligman, M.E.P. (1995). The Optimistic Child: A Proven Program to Safeguard Children Against Depression and BuildLifelong Resilience. NY: Houghton Mifflin.