When I’m Tempted to Become a Cynic

by Melannie Svoboda SND on October 19, 2020

(NOTE: As I type this, my blog is still not posting your comments. You can try to respond in case the problem gets resolved during this week. I apologize for the inconvenience. I really miss hearing from you…)

The other morning I prayed Psalm 33. I came to these words: “Give thanks to the Lord upon the harp.”

“What’s there to thank God for?” the cynic asks…(photo by Mochammad Algi)

Without even thinking, I blurted out, “Give thanks for what?! What’s there to give thanks to God for?” The world is mired in a global pandemic—with our good old U.S.A. leading the way in the number of deaths: over 218,000 at this writing. The economy is in shambles, our western states are on fire, our coastal regions are being battered by hurricane after hurricane, our political leadership is in disarray, our society is beset by blatant racism, sexism, ageism, and injustices of all kinds, and, due to Covid, we can’t even get together (as we normally would) with family and friends to find some relief, support, and encouragement.

So, what’s there to give thanks to the “Lord” for? That “Lord” had better help me find something—anything—to give thanks for before I become a card-carrying cynic who says, “Stop trying to make this world a better place! It’s no use! No better world is possible!”

(photo by Josh Sorenson)

But there’s something inside of me that protests against that fatalistic attitude. (Is it hope?) And I try desperately to come up with something to be grateful for. “How about the gift of life?” I suggest. But, some would argue, judging by our headlines, that the “gift” of life was merely an evolutionary fluke with an intrinsic fatal flaw (at least for humans): greed, selfishness, and a propensity for evil.

(photo by Anna Shvets)

Then I stop. I take a deep breath. And I find myself asking another question: Why are people still having babies? I mean, aren’t they terrified of the kind of world their children and grandchildren might inherit from us? And then a second question emerges: Why are there still so many kind and loving and pleasant and helpful people in the world? Where I’m living now, I meet downright good sisters all the time—in the halls, at table, in chapel, at play. We’re not angels, but we are basically good women. How can that be?

I meet other good people here too—like our employees. Take our housekeeping crew, this incredible group of women of various ages and backgrounds. Though I’ve lived here only two months, I see they are 100% disposed to helping us. I see them day after day pushing their carts crammed with cleaning supplies. And on some of their carts I see photos of their children or grandchildren. These women work hard every day for the love of people beyond themselves, beyond us. They work hard to support others. Where does such daily selflessness come from? Huh?

(photo by kaboompics)

And I ask: Why do over 2,000 people read this blog every week—a blog subtitled “Everyday SPIRITUALITY”? What are they hoping to get from these posts? What do they find in them that makes them return every week? And I begin to think: despite the current turmoil, confusion, and even despair, there lies an underlying pulsation of hope in many of us. There has to be! There’s this deep belief that a BETTER WORLD is possible, a BETTER US is possible, a BETTER ME is possible. A belief that things CAN get more just… more civil… more sane… more loving. Apparently, many of us still believe what St. John of the Cross wrote over 400 years ago, “If there is no love, put love—and you will find love.”

(photo by Ricardo Royas)

When I become a cynic, I’m really implying that God has abandoned us. That on March 1, 2020 (or pick another date) at 8:55 a.m. (Central time), God left us. God threw his or her arms up in the air in despair and cried, “I’ve had it with you humans! I’m out of here!” And stomped away. But doesn’t that image contradict everything Jesus taught and lived? Didn’t he tell us things like, “Fear not little flock… the Kingdom of God is in your midst… You are worth more than many sparrows… I call you friends… Peace I give you… I am with you all days…?

I read this short story the other day. It applies here. A little boy was walking along the shore with his dad when they came upon a rock. “I bet I can move this rock,” said the boy, “If I use all my strength.” So he pushed on the rock. Then he tried to lift the rock. But it wouldn’t budge. The boy said, “I guess I can’t move it.” His father said, “You could move it, but you didn’t use all your strength.” The boy asked, “What do you mean?” The father replied, “You didn’t ask me to help you.”

So let us use all our strength during these difficult days. Let us call upon God, our strength, to help us… I go back to Psalm 33 and start praying the words again. And when I come to, “Give thanks to the Lord,” I lean over and reach for my harp.

For reflection:

Did anything stand out for you in today’s reflection? If so, what? Why?

Are you ever tempted to become a cynic? What helps you to hold on to your faith and hope?

What do you “give thanks to the Lord” for today?

Today I chose a 5 minute video entitled “Sisters in Ministry: The Gospel in Action.” It is put out by the Global Sisters Report, sponsored by the “National Catholic Reporter.” The video explains who Sisters are around the world and what kind of ministries they are engaged in—both in the past and today. I am proud to say that two of our Sisters of Notre Dame from Covington, KY marched in Selma in 1965. And one of our sisters, Sister Rashmi from India, is shown in the video serving the Maasai people today in Kenya and Tanzania. (She’s the sister carrying a goat!) I hope this video encourages you (as it does me!) when you’re tempted to become a cynic. So many sisters, priests, brothers, laywomen and men, and people of all faiths are doing good and loving things for our world. And, if you’re reading this blog, chances are you are among them!

I encourage you to respond below to today’s reflection, pictures, questions, and video.

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