Since last September, the Sunday morning Adult Forum group has wrestled with the spiritual progression laid out by St. Paul in the fifth chapter of his Letter to the Romans: “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint.”
We veer off this path readily, and often. Suffering – adversity, disappointment, failure – often feels like an existential threat. Life as we know it is at stake, and our default responses take charge. From hunkering down to lashing out, from paralysis to frenetic activity, default responses have a strong hold on us because deep down, we believe they are necessary to our survival.
We sometimes call these “survival instincts”, yet they lead not to life but to death. They produce a deceptive belief in our own power to fend off adversity, to keep the world at bay: false hope which, unlike the genuine article, disappoints.
The little rewards we give ourselves for getting through the day – sweets, alcohol, permission to indulge in a little gossip – represent, in a kind of sacramental way, the full array of survival instincts which hold us in their grip and give us false. hope. Lenten fasting, giving up one of these indulgences for the forty days, can arm us for a greater struggle, to let go of the default responses to suffering which keep real hope out of reach. The alternative to default responses is “endurance”, the second step of Paul’s progression and the subject of next week’s Reflection.
[Note: I hope to have more to say on Paul’s path to hope in a series of sermons for Lent and Easter.]