For the most part I am an optimist. Most of the time, I believe that things will be better tomorrow than they are today, that people will respond positively and that situations will work out according to plan. But sometimes it’s hard to be an optimist. When a government solution to a debt crisis is more debt, when more people are attending church, but fewer people think homosexuality is a sin, when my students choose to take a zero on an assignment rather than do any work, I find myself sinking into pessimism.
When this happens, I am most often encouraged and lifted up by poetry and music from the Christian saints who have gone before us- you know, the old dead guys who really had to suffer for their faith. The Puritans are my favorites. Their depth never ceases to amaze and humble me. One of my favorite Puritan resources is The Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan prayers and devotionals.
The prayer that gives the book its title is an amazing poem about learning from the paradoxes of God.
Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly, Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see Thee in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Thy glory. Let me learn by paradox that: the way down is the way up, that to be low is to be high, that the broken heart is the healed heart, that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, that to have nothing is to possess all, that to bear the cross is to wear the crown, that to give is to receive, that the valley is the place of vision.
Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells, and the deeper the wells the brighter Thy stars shine; let me find Thy light in my darkness, Thy life in my death, Thy joy in my sorrow, Thy grace in my sin, Thy riches in my poverty, Thy glory in my valley.
Light in darkness, riches in poverty, optimism from pessimism – the paradox of Christ is a beautiful thing.