When a child is young, he or she has an innate “uh oh” feeling. Perhaps it seems innate, but it is actually learned. It is the feeling associated with fear, when something bad is going to happen. Perhaps it happens when we have when we have done something wrong. The “uh oh” alarm goes off: Mama’s gonna be mad. In a healthy child, the “uh oh” feeling also alerts them to danger. They may cry out for help, they may run, they may freeze. They know, however, that the “uh oh” feeling is a warning. When a child (or an adult) experiences repeated trauma, they often develop a different response to the “uh oh” feeling. Some become hypervigilant; they develop a hypersensitivity to potential threats and may become paralyzed with fear. Others learn to tune it out. If no help comes or there is no relief to the impending harm, attending to the alarm is useless. It’s better to turn it off, to detach, and simply endure.
Healing from trauma often includes learning once again to recognize the “uh oh” feeling, and to develop healthy coping skills. For the hypervigilant, the goal is to moderate the panic and find useful ways to express the fear and pain. For the detached, learning once again to connect with the feeling and to use it as a meaningful alarm system, as well as to develop healthy coping, is the goal.
Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone present a similar human story in their book, “Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy” . Set in the larger context of dealing with the state of the world, and the current ecological crisis in particular, the authors suggest that people tend to approach the greater state of the world with three possible options. They refer to the first as “Business as Usual”.  In this option people tend to shut out the warning signs of danger or calamity and proceed with their lives as though there were no concerns. They detach and disconnect, sometimes because they truly have no sense of connection with their broader world, and sometimes because they have no concept of what they could do to change things. Thus it is emotionally safer to simply ignore the danger and move on. The second approach is the “Great Unraveling.”  Here people become overwhelmed with the enormity of the impending calamity. Climate Change. Economic decline. War. The alarms are going off, but people may be paralyzed with a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. The final option is the “Great Turning.”  In this option, regardless of the potential outcome, people take action toward small and larger change.
It is to this process of turning and of change that Macy and Johnstone focus their attention. Grounding their work in resilience theory, psychology, systems theory, and Buddhism, they present a process for being and doing change. They begin with gratitude as a grounding place. Learning to be thankful re-connects us to self, others, and our world. From here, they suggest recognizing and embracing the pain of the world that is real. Ignoring pain only leads to further wounding. The next step is to “see with new eyes”.  Seeing with new eyes is about re-connecting with other people, with the past and the future, and with our environment, specifically the world and all that is in it. Finally, the authors talk about going forth; about catching a vision, casting a vision, developing networks of support, building endurance, and gaining comfort with the ambiguity of an unknown outcome.
In my world I see many daunting and overwhelming concerns. Poverty. Privilege, power and oppression. Inequality. Declining educational success. Injustice. A world walking away from God.
I have a choice, as do we all. I can ignore these things and go about my business. But then I think of a quote that I have posted in my office by Christian Educator Henrietta Mears:
“There is no magic in small plans. When I think of my ministry, I think of the world. Anything less than that would not be worthy of Christ nor His will for my life.”
I could go into detail into all of the many places where I might apply Macy and Johnstone’s principles of Active Hope. In my church. With my students. But instead I will start with myself.
I think for me that’s where I begin. Yes, with gratitude. Yes by embracing the pain and the challenges of the many situations I face personally, in my community, in my world. Yes, by dreaming new dreams and casting them out over the people and places where I have influence. Yes, by persisting and persevering in spite of and because of unknown outcomes. But first by surrender to my Lord and King, my Creator who connects me to Himself, to His people, and to His creation. That is the great joy and hope that I have as a believer. I do not move alone. I move first because and through Him. He is my source for everything else.
I end with the last refrain from a poem often diminished by its consumerist over-use on Christmas cards. But the simplicity of these words by English woman Christina Rosetti in her poem, “In the Bleak Midwinter” , seemed to be perfect for this post and this place where I am. I start active hope with surrender.
What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.
 Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy, Novato, CA: New World Library, 2012.
 Ibid, 14-17.
 Ibid, 17-24.
 Ibid, 26 – 33.
 Ibid, 39.
 Ethel May Baldwin and David V. Benson, Henrietta Mears and How She Did It! Ventura, CA: Regal Books, p 17.