Monday, 4 March 2013

Hope - and despair

Eleven chapters into the book (bear with me, there's 25, Lent's not halfway through yet) and Jacek Żakowski is increasingly prepared to challenge Fr. Tischner. Żakowski starts off fawningly reverential; as the conversations unfold, his journalistic tendencies to question become more and more apparent.

"It is intriguing question as to why the Lord God in his great divine teaching created in Man something that's called hope," says Fr. Tischner.

"There are those who say that it is human hope that created God," responds Żakowski. "Faith has the power to anaesthetise man in the face of the burdens of temporal life".

Fr. Tischner responds by pointing to one religion that is entirely bereft of hope - the Ancient Greek one. Life in the Greek world closed itself in a circle - like Odysseus' journey. He was merely returning home - to that which he knew, and remembered. When God called on Abraham to leave Ur of the Chaldees and follow him to the Promised Land, Abraham trusted God and followed.

The catechism cites the revelations of God to Man - to Noah, to Abraham, to Moses - and finally - God sends Christ to bring salvation to all men. In this, the Judeo-Christian world offers hope of something that is not known. Fr. Tischner explains: "The flow of time in the Judeo-Christian world is one in which tomorrow is not like today, it's not a scaled-down today, but an enlarged one. We have a timeline that goes up. Man can create gods for himself, but the question is - are these gods of memory, or gods of hope? For man to create gods of hope, man has to have carried that hope within him already. Hope is a historical event, placed in time and space. In this sense, the Bible says that God creates hope. Why does God create hope?"

"Man needs hope to make sense of life. Many people must have felt that the losing hope, they lose the sense of continued existence," replies Żakowski. "The Judeo-Christian God creates structures of growing up, maturing, climbing upwards. Maybe, as the great teacher, God created hope to force us to become better and better?"

"Let's differentiate the open and the closed sense. The sense of Odysseus' life was closed. All he could do was to meet Penelope, whom he had already met. In the case of the Judeo-Christian sense of life - it is open. We are progressing towards a meeting with something that no man has met. In here lies that promise. Here is Abraham, Moses, the prophets, and Christ. There's a line, going ever upwards, going beyond human memory. Hope continually undercuts memory," says Fr. Tischner.

He quotes Kierkegaard as saying that the Israelites, who had an excellent understanding of divinity, understood that were God to reveal himself in His fullness, man could not withstand it, and would die. [Shades here of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil]. And this is why God reveals Himself to man step by step, across the ages. And creates time. Not time that's closed in a loop, but time that unceasingly grows; the time of history, the time of deeds, of God's promise. A beautiful metaphor. You promise, therefore you give something to the other person. But you have not given everything," says Fr. Tischner. "You have given only hope," replies Żakowski.

"The day will come when the promise fulfils itself. There is the relationship between him who promises, and him who receives the promise. This is the trusteeship of hope. Giving a promise, you become the trustee of hope. But the hope is often tested; tested by anxiety, despair; to keep on hoping, you return to the trustee," says Fr. Tischner.

"Yes, this is the simple teaching of humans, you offer hope, you hold out threats. Man is undone between hope and anxiety; man is brought up in a behavioural way, with a choice: do well, and you will be rewarded with eternal life; avoid doing evil and you will avoid the fires of hell. Would it not be more beautiful if we were to do good simply because it is good to do so?" asks Żakowski.

"Behavioural teaching is rather a human invention than the text of the Gospels. What have we in the Gospels?" asks Fr. Tischner. "The last shall be first," replies Żakowski. "Those that do not force their way to the front with their elbows shall attain greatness for all eternity..."

"I'd say that this is not encouragement to be bottom of the class," replies Fr. Tischner. "Rather its encouraging you to notice your own human weaknesses, failings, our earthly unhappinesses. 'Fear not, this all serves hope'," he says.

"Consolation," replies Żakowski.

"It's more than consolation. It's an encouragement to reflect... There are two possibilities - hope according to memory, the hope of Odysseus - and then you have a closed sense of life; or memory according to hope, and there you have a reflection upon the future, an awareness that I'm happening at the same time as history...," says Fr. Tischner.

"Upbringing by stick and carrot," replies Żakowski. "You are repeating to people, 'your hope is not on this earth'." "Oh no, not so!" says Fr. Tischner. "There is a trustee of faith. One carries one another's burdens. We are one another's trustees of our hopes, and from that trusteeship is formed the community of the Church. Woe betide him who is without hope in the Church. You cannot allow man to experience anything that will take away hope from him, but you may put that hope to the test. Such tests are necessary, that hope may grow, upwards. By 'tests of hope', I mean anxiety, unease, the temptation to despair. You must say to man: 'you are greater than your despair.' Your hope is greater, there is the promise. And God says this."

Fr. Tischner ends with a quote from Meister Eckhart: "And when God comes to Man, he does so, saying 'auf wiedersehn / au revoir / do widzenia' ['goodbye' - itself a contraction of 'God be with you' - is not the right translation. It's more like a 'be seeing you', a promise of seeing you again] It is a promise, in the future tense. God cannot reveal Himself fully, for you would not be able to withstand it. But he is saying "I'll be seeing you. This is the great teacher of hope".

Without a sense of life indeed there's no hope. Despair is indeed a dreadful state to be in, when hope dies, there's little point. But is there other hope than religion? I think there is. But more later.

This time last year:
Communist Poland's secret rail disasters

This time two years ago:
The Cripple and the Storyteller: a short story

This time two years ago:
Dogs begin to bark, hounds begin to howl

This time four years ago:
Another light dusting

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