I have hopes, dreams, visions for my life concerning the way I’d like things to be and for myself regarding the way I’d like to be. Perhaps at the age of 62 (supposing that I might have had it all worked out by now, but no!), it is truer to write that I still have hopes, dreams, and visions!
(Recently, a 20-something friend shared her future aspirations. She spoke of launching a successful – “What would be the point otherwise?”, she asked rhetorically with a resolute air – career as an attorney, quickly resolving her student loan debt, “within fifteen years,” her voice was intense, her countenance steely with determination, then retiring to do what she truly yearned to do, which is to become a celebrated fiction writer, “before the ripe old age of sixty.” At her final word, she had to have noticed my slight grimace, for she asked, “Paul, how old are you?” When I told her, she offered a hasty, “I’m sorry.” I’m not sure her apologetic reply was in reference to her description of 60 as a “ripe old age” or her recognition that I was beyond that “ripe old age.” Whatever. I didn’t ask for clarification!)
I suppose because my parents went through their adolescent and teenage years during the Great Depression era, they became apprehensive about money and finances and, therefore, quite conservative. They lived (or perhaps, in some sense, existed) with a worldview that revolved on an axis of scarcity. As circumstances beyond one’s control might mean that there wasn’t (ever) enough, one never spent or risked too much. No doubt, they passed their fiscal anxiety on to me. Money is a symbol of security for me – something not necessarily hoarded, but also not easily expended and when spent, deeply felt with a sense of loss.
As I reflect, however, I find it difficult at times to reconcile some of my hoping, dreaming, and visioning with my life’s choices. As a teenager, and then as a young adult – with political science as my academic pursuit, law school as my goal, and a legal career (of course, successful, echoing my young friend: what would have been the point otherwise?) as my ambition, I remember longing to become a millionaire (or, at least, a thousandaire in the high hundreds), the mark of having enough. Yet my vocational calling and choice was to be a Christian minister; and most clergy whose sole living is drawn from religious communities, perhaps with the exception of megachurch pastors, dare not hope, dream, or otherwise envision becoming financially, materially wealthy.
As I approach retirement, after nearly 40 years of active ministry, I fully believe that I have done what I was meant to do, that I am who I was meant to be. Still, on occasion, I wonder. Did I hope in earnest? Was I serious enough about pursuing and fulfilling my dreams? Was my vision concrete? Or was it, especially my ideation, my idealization of financial security, merely wishful thinking, being that expression of my desire in the face of things beyond my control and, whether or not I was conscious of it, beyond my realest intentions?
Or was it something entirely other?
Reflecting on my own experience in this Advent season of expectation, actively waiting for the arrival of Christmas, I dare to think that it – my hopes, dreams, and visions – was, is something more. (As I am in a definite period of looking back at my life and my work, wondering, in light of my olden dreams, what might have been if I had followed another course and, I confess, seeking the comfort of self-justification that what has been is what was meant to be, perhaps it is more honest to write that I dare to hope it is something more.)
In this regard, I think of John the Baptizer, that biblical figure who, as a herald of the Messiah, lived in his own advent-period, waiting, watching with hopes, dreams, and visions, proclaiming the arrival of the One to come. The One who would inaugurate the reign of God’s righteous rule. The One who would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire.” The One who, with winnowing fork in hand, would “clear the threshing floor, gathering the wheat and burning the chaff.” In other words, the One who would render judgment, dividing the righteous from the unrighteous. This message John preached, calling all to repent, to turn from their self-interested ways to the holy way of God, in preparation for the coming of this Messiah.
However, John soon found himself imprisoned by the secular ruler for disrupting the peace, disturbing the status quo. Believing that the Messiah had come in Jesus, I imagine John wondering (I would!): Had he hoped in earnest? Had he pursued and fulfilled the right dream? Or had it all been wishful thinking?
Or had it been something entirely other?
More to come…