I’m terrible at being a “the glass is half full!” kind of person. When I contemplate the world around me (or contemplate myself) my eyes are captured by the bright glare of emptiness—the void, the lack, the absence. I look at my long list of projects and only see the items I haven’t crossed off yet (yes, I’m the kind of person who writes things down I’ve already done so I can cross them off!). I stare into my garage and imagine all the shelves I’d need to sort to be “more” organized. I gaze into the eyes of my five week old son and wonder why he only likes to sleep on people….
As you may suspect—or have experienced yourself—each one of these contemplative road leads me, in turn, to a disappointed heart: a feeling of inadequacy as a scholar, a home-maker, or a parent.
Perhaps I tend toward the dreary side of life. But, perhaps I see what reality is: God is perfect, so nothing else can be. Yet, I don’t think God is simply calling us to look at reality around us—our relationships, our vocations, our environment, or our hearts—and be disappointed.
Our lectionary readings at this time of year are ticking us closer to a subject which many might find dreary: the endtimes. And, certainly, it may be hard to look at the apocalypse as a “glass half full” kind of situation. On the other hand, Jesus calls us to take a hard look at reality. The correct response to a Jesus who calls us to task is: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Jesus does not have patience for the recital of a long list of the good tasks we’ve completed (fasting twice a week, paying taxes on one’s whole income, not being like those “other” people) (Luke 18:9-14).
Likewise, the crowd of interested, responsible citizens lining the street to see Jesus are not the ones whom Jesus picks out with his piercing gaze. It’s Zacchaeus, screened out of sight up a sycamore tree, and who surely had not prepared his house to perfection, on whom Jesus prevails for lunch. Zacchaeus, a sinner, the one whom Jesus describes as having been “lost,” is the one whose heart is clear enough to contemplate a clear, new reality..and to come to conversion (Luke 19:1-10).
While I still don’t have a good way to deal with an infant who won’t sleep unless I’m holding him, I do think there’s more to be said for looking clearly at one’s faults and failures. The trick is, one must not fall into the trap of looking at faults and failures as all-consuming gods—beasts to be fed with all one’s attention and time. It is easy to become self-obsessed, prideful, perennially anxious, or depressed.
God may ask us to look at harsh realities, but God also asks us to hope. By acknowledging our faults and failures and lacks (or necessary home improvement projects) we acknowledge the possibility of change, of growth, of development, of building a more sustainable and just community, and of growing closer to God.
When I say the glass is half empty, then, I’m acknowledging the possibility that it could be filled to the point of joyful running over, at the banquet which God has prepared for me in the sight of all my enemies.
And so, as we rapidly close our liturgical year, may we walk toward the eschaton with a hopeful heart. I’ll add that to my list.