Dabbing up the tears with popcorn
Written 2,600 years ago, Habakkuk’s lament (Hab. 1:2-3; 2:2-4) cuts to the heart of our struggle with faith. “I cry for help but you don’t listen! I cry out to you violence — but you don’t intervene. Why do you let me see ruin, why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me. There is strife, and clamorous discord!”
Habakkuk’s questions are familiar and troubling. Most of us have similar concerns. Why does God let wretched things happen? It just makes no sense. To the ultra-rational mind, it’s even proof that religion is useless and God doesn’t exist. That very argument was made in several books nearly a decade ago (e.g., “God is not Great,” “The End of Faith,” “The God Delusion”). The “new atheist” authors declared that God neither listens nor intervenes and religion is a source of human strife, an enemy of human reason and doesn’t work. It almost sounds as if Habakkuk and the new atheists share a similar view. However, there’s a distinction. Habakkuk complains, but never abandons faith, belief in God or hope in God’s saving power. Indeed, Habakkuk’s prayer ends by proclaiming the Lord’s strength and exulting a saving God — regardless of what else may be going on.
Faith in God and religion cannot guarantee a pain-free life, but they may offer a degree of hope in the midst of calamity. The following story of a hospital volunteer from “How Can I Help?: Stories and Reflections on Service,” by Paul Gorman and Ram Dass, illustrates how.
“My idea was simple. Volunteer in wards with terminally ill children and burn victims. Just go in there and cheer them up. Gradually, I developed a clown costume during visits. First a red-rubber nose, then make-up, then a yellow, red and green clown-suit. Finally, wing tip shoes, two-and-a-half-feet long, with green tips and heels, white in the middle. It’s tricky going into cancer wards and burn units as a clown. Some kids are afraid of clowns and are already pretty shaky. Burnt skin and baldheads on kids — what can you do? You face it. When kids are hurting so bad, so afraid and everybody’s heart is breaking, you face it. See what happens, and figure out what to do next. I got the idea of traveling with popcorn. When a kid is crying, I dab up the tears with the popcorn and pop it into my mouth or into his or hers. We sit around together, and eat the tears.”
Some will reject suffering, not to mention a God that allows suffering. Others embrace suffering as part of the human condition, and enter into it in God’s name.
When people are so hurt, so afraid and everybody’s heart is breaking — they enter into it, sit together and eat the tears. And that’s no small thing. Because when they do, faith is perfect, religion is perfect, love is perfect and God is no delusion!
Tony Maciorowski is a deacon at Saint Agnes Catholic Church in Shepherdstown, one of the churches in the Shepherdstown Ministerial Association. He can be reached at email@example.com.