Waiting for Consolation

I was working on Advent stuff: liturgy, preaching plans, etc. and I ran across Annie Proulx’s speech at the National Book Award, and then, through Proulx, stumbled into this poem by WisŁawa Szymborska. In Consolation Szymborska writes beautifully, though pessimistically about hope in a world of harsh realities. The laments are fair, and her longing is right. But the expectations are cynical. Hope seems relegated to fiction in Darwin's world of strength and Szymborska's world of harsh reality. You know the feeling; movies resolve all conflicts in 90 minutes, and sitcoms accelerate to get it done in 30. And now, binge-watchable series have taken over, because 8-10 hours seems like a more realistic wait for our heroes to defeat the Demogorgon. In daily life, healing takes years, and resurrection is extremely rare. Consolation and redemption start to feel naïve at best. But here, against the dismal backdrop of cynicism, the good promises of Advent ring back, "it's not foolish, we just haven't reached the final chapter yet."

Enter Simeon. Luke 2.25 - Simeon filled with the Holy Spirit and waiting. Waiting for the Consolation of Israel. Consolation follows the narrative forms of stories we know, but it is much more than George Bailey's friends coming to dump laundry baskets of cash and save the building and loan, and it isn't the long-lost Golden Retriever limping over the hill to reunite with his family. It's a king returning with kept promises on his lips, justice in his hands, and resurrection in his wake. But both Proulx and Szymborska are right to point to resolutions anchored in opening chapter conflict. This is how most stories function, not just because the formula works, but because that formula mimics. Art imitates Life in this case. I think I would reset the poem; hope is always audacious (to borrow a phrase), in fact, it's often far-fetched, but that doesn't make it wishful.

I loved the way Syborska stated the reversals of redemption drawing biblical themes like the prodigal. Her words were tongue in cheek, but so similar to the true hopes of Mary’s song in Luke's gospel. Above, I have paired the Polish poet's work with another artistic rendition. Sister Grace, a Cistercian nun in an Iowa Order, Our Lady of the Mississippi, painted "The Virgin Mary Consoles Eve" in 2003. A glimpse that first-chapter wrongs will be set right, but this story and its waiting lasts generations.

Consolation isn't an idea too good to be true, it's a person, the Person, who is Truth itself, and too good and gracious to ever be false.