The Greatest Of These (Right Now)

By Lyn Brakeman ’82 M.Div.

In these days when fears overwhelm human hearts, and death lurks unbidden, we need hope to sing into the darkness, to trust a dawn we cannot see.

Paul, saint, apostle, prolific letter writer, and brilliant apologist for divine grace, himself succumbed to the greatest of human sins – rank-ordering everyone and everything in all Creation – when he wrote in First Corinthians 13: “And now faith, hope and love abide, these three, and the greatest of these is love.”

I do not always agree with Paul, yet as a writer I appreciate his eloquent efforts. Without his letters Christianity might have less heft, and Jesus of Galilee less Christic oomph, and divine grace fewer headlines. Nevertheless I disagree with the summation he gives of his famous Corinthians hymn to love. Love is not always the “greatest” of these three stunning spiritual gifts. The three are omnipresent and ever intermingling, each emerging at the time most needed. Right now the “greatest of these” is hope.

Sitting with my husband, we feel the warm firm grasp of each other’s hands while watching the news.

Hope allows me to trust the larger unifying vision of Love abundant when I cannot see it. Hope comes in spurts – outrageously small, quick shocks of energy that at first might make no real sense yet cause my soul to rise and grin. A few of those small recent moments personally come to mind:

  • I watch a tiny child on its mother’s shoulders call out, “Wanna do it again. Again.” The two are walking home from the nearby park. Mom trudges forward dragging a small scooter with one hand, securing the child’s balance with the other, and muttering: “Yes lovey, yes.”
  • A woman doctor of Native American heritage tells me a story: The Taíno, an indigenous people of the Caribbean, appoint old women, the Grandmothers, to preside over their tribal Counsel. They meet and make all decisions for the tribe’s well-being. They do not allow men on the Counsel. Men bring warrior energy.
  • Sobbing, I watch herds of peoples on film struggling to cross the hazardous Darién Gap, a roadless swath of forest inside a remote jungle in Panama, risking their lives to get to freedom, food, and dignity. Many die en route. Children wail from hunger. The refugees keep walking and limping through wild waters and impassable root tangles. They hope against hope.
  • A grandson of mine, age six, has just learned to whistle, a skill far more important to him than struggling to read. Whistling is a skill he masters. It gives him hope. He overdoes it. Need I say more?
  • On TV, a little boy, age four, in the hospital without much lifetime left, is eager to participate in the ER Halloween party. A doctor gives the child choices among a wild array of Halloween costumes – superheroes, even monsters. The boy shakes his head side to side. The doctor is losing hope. Finally, the child whispers: “I want to be a sunflower.”
  • A two-minute pre-recorded message of gratitude I receive from Dean Gregory Sterling of Yale Divinity School is miraculous. It’s all gratitude – no request for money. I’m tempted to send more money in gratitude.
  • I read about an Iranian Kurd named Behrouz Boochani who writes an entire book while he is detained, tortured, and terror-stricken, going from country to country, pleading asylum. Many “inns” are too full. His story of racial terrorism is told, published – shared hope. He lives now in New Zealand.
  • Sitting with my husband, we feel the warm firm grasp of each other’s hands – for no reason, wordless – while watching the news.

I’m in my 80s – white, privileged, not ashamed because I’m not useless. I can write. I write hope when I can’t see enough love or faith. Hope makes me cry and smile because it is irrationally small and spiritually true. It is “the greatest of these” abiding three – right now.

The Rev. Lyn G. Brakeman ’82 M.Div. is a retired Episcopal priest in Simsbury, CT. She is the author of a memoir, God Is Not A Boy’s Name: Becoming Woman, Becoming Priest (Cascade Books, 2016).