Where We Turn for Meaning

with Michael Ignatieff

Historian and Canadian politician Michael Ignatieff explores the cracks in our seamless worldviews… or at least the worldviews we thought were seamless until we’re faced with tragedies of all kinds. In this wide-ranging exploration, Kate and Michael probe humanity’s enduring attempt to console ourselves and construct meaning from our pain.




In this conversation, Kate and Michael discuss:

  • Why truth and trust are so important when it comes to finding meaning in our pain
  • The difference between comfort and consolation
  • The limits of stoicism and hyper-futurism
  • What it means to be hopeful
  • The importance of community through pain and suffering

Michael does not denigrate anyone’s attempt for comfort, but asks us to look carefully at the consolation that lasts. He asks: What is consolation? And why do we all crave that practice of meaning-making?

Michael Ignatieff

Born in Canada, educated at the University of Toronto and Harvard, Michael Ignatieff is a university professor, writer and former politician. Between 2006 and 2011, Michael Ignatieff served as an MP in the Parliament of Canada and then as Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada and Leader of the Official Opposition. He is a member of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and holds thirteen honorary degrees. Between 2012 and 2015 he served as Centennial Chair at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York. Between 2014 and 2016 he was Edward R. Murrow Chair of the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Michael Ignatieff was until recently the Rector and President of Central European University in Budapest. He stepped down at the end of July 2021, to stay as a Professor in the History Department.

Show Notes

Learn more about the French philosopher of the Enlightenment Marquis de Condorcet.

Michael is a professor, former politician and author. Michael and Kate talk about his book On Consolation: Finding solace in Dark Times.

Marcus Auerlius, Emperor of Rome, wrote down his philosophy and thoughts in The Meditations, which is basically the moral tenets of Stoicism.

The blessing at the end of this podcast is “for when hope seems lost” can be found on page 120 in the book The Lives We Actually Have. You can get a copy here.

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Discussion Questions

Discuss this episode with a book club, friends, or bible study group. Here are some conversation starters:

  1. Michael Ignatieff describes consolation as an attempt to give meaning to suffering. Is there a time you’ve experienced a deep sense of meaning amidst suffering? If you haven’t experienced consolation, what do you hope it is like? What do you imagine consolation to be? 
  1. In this episode, Kate and Michael look at the Judeo-Christian story of Job to explore a shared desire for justice and divine apology. How do we meaningfully acknowledge our anger at the cards we’ve been dealt in life even if, like Job, we never get an apology? 
  1. Kate and Michael talk about “beautiful interdependence” with other loving people as one particular expression of consolation, even though other humans aren’t the “solution” to our pain. How do we avoid the extremes of pure self-reliance or the assumption that other people are the solution? 
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Kate Bowler You’ve probably heard it said that humans are meaning-making creatures. We tell stories to make sense of our lives and our loves. We cling to traditions and rituals that make us feel a part of something greater than us. And, of course, as this podcasts title lets you know, something meaningful can’t always be found. Sometimes things just happen for no reason that we can easily understand and no reason we can weaponize against other people. And yet. And yet. And yet, we still want to be on the hunt for glimmers of beauty and joy and hope. Even still. I’m Kate Bowler and this is Everything Happens and today we’re going to talk about the whole concept of consolation. I know, you know I love big words, but my guest today wrote a whole book exploring this question, what is consolation? What meaning do people turn to after we experience great tragedy or suffering? And not just today, when so many people turn to science or the therapeutic, but what have great thinkers and leaders turned to for centuries before us? Maybe it’s because I study popular religious culture and, you know, which is to say everything that makes its way into Instagram and cheap paperbacks. So I kind of wanted a minute to speak to someone who loves these long-form stories, these historical accounts, as much as I do. And my guest today is very interested in explanations of suffering and what people turn to when their own certainties break down. Michael Ignatieff is a professor and a writer and a politician. And yeah, like in that little grab-bag of descriptions, let me just tell you about what an incredible person he is. When I was growing up in Canada, Michael Ignatieff was just absolutely the guy you wanted to be. If you wanted to, you know, be the winner of the world’s most incredible brain contest. He served as a member of parliament in the Parliament of Canada for years. He was the leader of the Liberal Party for a while. Like leader of the official opposition. He really could have been prime minister, in my opinion. He had a very cool show in the United Kingdom for a long time, which just made him the cosmopolitan, oh right. Then, Harvard scholar, that you would ask if you wanted to ask enormous existential questions like what is loss and to what do we turn to to find comfort? And in this beautiful book he wrote, he offers various portraits of people across time whose life really broke down. And what did they turn to? In the midst of their own personal losses and griefs and illnesses. How did they make sense of their own fragility? Did they turn to religion? Did they turn to politics? Do they turn to the idea of a brighter, better future? So in today’s episode, you’re going to hear me ask about three of these portraits, three of these particular arguments that we turn to to explain our lives. The first is stoicism. It’s that ancient philosophy that’s become very popular again that says you should basically just accept life’s suffering as an obstacle course that you have to navigate. I ask him about history itself. What if we just want to feel like things are always getting better because we’re on the right side of history? Is that the way to do it? And then I ask him about one of our biggest stories, the Judeo-Christian story of Job, but whether that helps us make sense of our sorrow? So. All right. You’re going to hear two historians buckle up and ask each other a lot of questions. I really hope you like it. Here we go. Michael, thank you so much for doing this with me today. I have honestly wanted to meet you forever and ever

Michael Ignatieff Well, it’s very nice for you to invite me to do this. I’m delighted.

Kate I just have so many questions I’d love to ask you. My area of academic interest is in how people use popular religious explanations of suffering. And you’re so interested in what comes right after that. Is the consolation. What did people turn to? So maybe I thought we could start with then, what is exactly consolation?

Michael Well, I think it’s the attempt, Kate, to give meaning to suffering so you can bear it more easily. And that sounds relatively simple, but the real problem with consolation, I think, is truth. That is, we can say lots of things to make us bear loss and grief and pain and whatever, and we can give it plenty of meaning. And then there’s the problem believing whether what we just said to ourselves is true or not, or whether we’re fooling ourselves or whether, you know, there is a thing called false consolation. And I think everybody who has lost somebody knows that awful moment when somebody comes to console you. And puts out a bunch of words that clearly they don’t believe, but they feel they have to do it for ritual reasons of politeness. And that’s where you suddenly feel that consolation is not true.

Kate Yes, that is one of the great shared experiences that I love so much about The Everything Happens community is that we understand how deeply valuable meaning-making is, but we really don’t want to say untrue things, especially since so often it’s usually just a quarter turn away of something, maybe a little harder. And you had a friend whose wife had just died of cancer and you were faced with exactly this problem, I imagine, sitting there not quite sure exactly what the truest thing would be to say.

Michael Absolutely. And I think sometimes, I draw a contrast between comfort and consolation. Very often the best thing you can do when someone has just lost somebody in these terrible circumstances is to provide comfort. And comfort can just be physical. You just put your arm around somebody, give him a hug, and and there’s no real comfort. There’s no lying about comfort. I mean, you’re either comforted or you’re not by that embrace or by that look of affection or concern. Consolation is at another level. It’s we’re going to produce some meaning here. We can all do this. He lived a good life. He lived a full life. You loved her. He loved she loved you. You never forget the love that you had for each other. These are the things we say after the loss. Do they console? Very difficult. I think it depends tremendously on trust. You know, you can be told consoling things by somebody and you just somehow don’t trust them. And then there are the people really close to you who will say something and it does console you because you trust them.

Kate That’s so true. Yeah, You make some great. I’m just sorry, you can hear me turning the pages of your book because I did a lot of impressive underlining. But when you when you said comfort is transitory, consolation is endearing. Comfort is physical. Consolation is propositional. Consolation is an argument about why life is the way it is and why we must keep going. That’s heavy work.

Michael It’s heavy work. And the question is whether the arguments work, whether they convince or whether they are true. And that’s why consolation is such an interesting subject to me, because there are lots of times when consolation fails. The book, in fact, begins with talking to a man who I was very fond of, and I loved his wife too. And she died of cancer. They’d been together for 50 years, you know, as one of these wonderful marriages. I love being together with them because they were so fond of each other and he had so much respect for her. And when she died, I went to see him and we just sat in silence. I just thought, there’s nothing I can say to this guy. And I think he was grateful that I kept my mouth shut because it just would have been false. Consolation is hard, and sometimes it’s so hard to console yourself and so hard to console someone else that that’s something to respect about consolation. This is not, you know, Hallmark greeting card time. This is yeah, when you’ve been hit by something that hard, you have a right to expect that your friends will choose their words very carefully because we’ve all got a very good detector for what’s false. And there are very few forms of consolation we actually trust.

Kate Yeah, that’s right. I always think of it like a runner’s pace, like the person who’s keeping pace with your hope. Too much and it has a sort of poisonous or duplicitous quality. Too slow. And you’re like, Oh, my gosh, I’m already doing all this work, you monster!

Michael Yeah, that’s a very good metaphor. You want someone running beside you. And breathing as heavily as you are.

Kate Yes, not drafting off me. Let me draft up for you. Yes.

Michael Yeah.

Kate One of the research projects I’ve been working on is on the nature of American self-help, and there’s certain very common cultural explanations of suffering that I wondered if I could ask you about. And one is the the rise of stoicism, neo-stoicism too, as a response to life’s unfairness. So I wondered if you could explain a little bit about why it is, why it’s so compelling. I didn’t expect Stoicism to make such a self-help rise

Michael And you’re quite right. You look at the bookstores and you suddenly see stoicism is on the rise. And I’m not a very good guide of stoicism. In fact, that chapter in this book that talks about stoicism actually talks mostly about when stoicism breaks down. There are two examples of this. One of them is the emperor, Marcus Aurelius. And that’s, you know, The Meditations is commonly regarded as a great classic of stoicism. I read it very differently. I mean, the thing that cracked Marcus Aurelius open for me was the notation on one of the meditations. It says he wrote it in Carnuntum. Well, Carnuntum happens to be an armed camp in the Roman times on the Danube frontier. That means he wrote it when he was fighting the barbarians. And then if you think more about this, you realize this is an aging emperor who’s sick and old and he is preaching stoicism to himself. But it’s not working very well. It’s not the life he thought he was going to lead. He thought he was going to sit in Rome and, you know, and be the philosopher king. And in fighting, he’s a military commander fighting a remorseless enemy and engaging in brutal, brutal counterinsurgency. And he’s trying to hold himself together. And so when I read this stoic text, what I’m interested in is stoicism at its breaking point. So that’s one example. The other example is Cicero. Cicero was a great, classic stoic writer. Yet Cicero preaches all this stoic stuff to his male friends, and then he loses his daughter. And anybody, and I’m not a Roman scholar, but anybody who reads the letters that Cicero writes after his daughter dies knows that Cicero comes apart. And the interesting thing about the stoic language is that all his male friends say, “Come on, Cicero, shape up. Get a grip. It’s. She’s just a woman, you know. She’s just a female. What’s your problem here?” He can’t get over the loss of his daughter. And none of this stoic stuff, which is self-command. Grin and bear it. Reduce your expectations of life, self-control, resignation, all this stuff. None of it works. When the fierce pain of losing his daughter occurs. So, yes, you’re quite right, Kate. There’s a big trend in stoic writing. And but I’m interested in, I think, stoicism and these stoic writers are most appealing, most humanly appealing, where when they’re at a breaking point. And I think that’s one of the things that gets missed when we take doctrines like stoicism out of the context in which they were written. They become this kind of abstract, cooking manual. You know, for mental distress, try stoicism. Well, I think stoicism is only interesting when you see it lived by two great figures, Marcus Aurelius and Cicero, who found when life was really tough that there wasn’t much philosophy that could do anything at all. I don’t want to be negative here. I think we need all the help we can get anywhere we can get it any time. But let’s not fool ourselves that the thing about consolation is we’re always asking ourselves as we produce meanings. Are these meanings working? And what’s fascinating about Marcus Aurelius and Cicero is that they’re aware that the stoic language is not working for them in moments of really extreme grie,f and suffering, and anguish, and that’s when I find both of them so much more appealing, you know, than when they’re giving me the stoic message, you know.

Kate The seamless foundation of impassive acceptance. Imagine your life as a set of obstacle courses that you have to navigate with. I mean, the virtue I see in stoicism, that seems like we all want bits of it, is the courage of acceptance. I mean, it’s a wonderful thing.

Michael Yes

Kate I guess two things really worry me about the recent rises. One, how very gendered it is that it is deeply marketed to…

Michael Yes, this is male talk. And that’s precisely what makes Cicero so interesting, is that his daughter dies and all the men say, you know, you’re not behaving like a Roman patrician male. You’re crying, you’re weeping, you’re being seen to weep. And I think the stoic language of self-control is very gendered. And it’s actually I mean, I hardly ask you to feel our pain, but it’s tough on men in the sense that we’re told not to cry. We’re told to repress. And we’ve been told that for 2000 years by people like Cicero. And I’m trying to say this language of consolation, which has a certain nobility to it, I think, you try to bring that out, also has its cost. It asks for a form of self-restraint for men that just isn’t actually possible. You know, we cry

Kate Yes. Yeah, that’s right. I love how interested you are in the limits of our, and you do it in such a gentle way, but you’re interested in the in the and just like in the little fissures, in the little breaking points of the seamlessness of our worldviews. We believe one thing. And then. And then we’re asked to live it. It’s horrible. It’s just horrible. There’s another framework that you’ve thought a lot about, and I think there’s a tremendous power to it right now. And we’ve seen it play out in particular in the last few election cycles, and that is our faith in country. As a story about the future, as a story about how if we allow if we love the direction we hope history is going, then it will carry the weight of our lives. You’ve been a public servant for a long time. You’ve had many different institutional roles. What are the advantages and limitations of that kind of hope

Michael Boy, you don’t ask easy questions, Kate. This is really hard. I do think it’s true. The Marquis de Condorcet writes a sketch on the historical progress of the human mind. And it’s one of those famous accounts of progress and one of the famous attempts to say that history is hopeful. And there’s no question I think you’re quite right that a lot of people have drawn hope from a vision of history going forward. And then the American version of that is that, you know, America is history’s friend and engine. And to believe in America is to believe in progress. And all of that comes from the Enlightenment and it comes from people like Condorcet. But the interesting thing about Condorcet is that Condorcet writes this sketch of the progress of the human mind while he’s in hiding in Paris from the Jacobin revolutionaries who want to execute him. And so it’s a kind of desperate attempt by a man essentially in hiding to find something that he can still believe in. It’s as if he’s saying, I may not make it out of here alive, but this is what I believed. I believe that the future will be bright. I believe that medicine will cure many diseases that currently kill us. I believe that people will be much more educated in the future. I believe that technology will solve so many of our problems and make some of the pains that we suffered just disappear. It’s a wonderful vision. And in fact, the irony is that many of the things that Condorcet predicted would happen have happened. The thing I would say about it, though, Kate, is that it doesn’t make any difference when you’re deeply depressed and unhappy. It’s too abstract. The idea that history is kind of going in a progressive direction, that America is a great country and it’s going forward doesn’t really connect. When you suffered a brutal reversal in your professional life or you’ve had a really bad, you know, meeting with your doctor. There’s just no fit. It doesn’t it doesn’t connect. It’s too abstract to help. And it ends up being a kind of false consolation. But let’s be historians for a second. There’s simply no doubt that this vision of history, which starts with the Enlightenment and then goes forward to people like Karl Marx. There were people who, and this is where it is consoling, there are people who believed in a socialist future or a communist future, who had to fight for it decade after decade after decade. And they constantly lost. And what kept them going was the belief that history would turn out in the way that Marx and Condorcet and all these people predicted. So there’s no question that this vision of history has been very consoling to help people face political defeat. And let’s be clear that that’s what’s going on. I mean, and a lot of the worst parts of communist tyranny, now flip it over. A lot of the ruthlessness of communism as a system of government turned on the fact that all the agents inside the system said, well, I’m going to have to kill you, but I’m killing you for the sake of this radiant tomorrow, that’s just over the horizon. You can’t see it, but you’re the necessary sacrifice to get us there. So that these histories, which are very consoling to those who are struggling to make change, have often turned into terrible instruments of pain and suffering for the people who stand in the way. So I’m very skeptical of the uses of history to cheer us up and give us hope, because very often they turn into instruments of terror and tyranny

Kate Yes. For a historian, you’re very “Don’t look to us!” in, I thought, a refreshing way because “don’t make us tell you where it’s going.”

Michael We’re not here to do happy talk, historians, no, that’s not what we do.

Kate Yes, we should all have never open a bar and ask people to stop by.

Michael Right? It’s not the right profession for me.

Kate Can we talk about Job for a minute? Which is a sentence I’ve always just wanted to say casually.

Michael Well, yeah, that’s a happy subject.

Kate I want to talk about here. I mean, it’s one of our foundational stories in the form of a question about what happens when a righteous person suffers and friends have opinions and the righteous person protests and God answers. And you you’ve thought a lot about what Job teaches us.

Michael Well, I’m still puzzling what Job teaches us. And I think this is one of these stories that if I told you I had an interpretation of the Book of Job, you should start laughing right now, because it it eludes, it really eludes simple answers. I mean, the thing that I find so incredibly moving about Job is basically shaking his fist at the sky. He’s afflicted with, you know, desolation, destruction. His whole life is destroyed by a malicious God who seems to just enjoy torturing him and he submits to it for a while and then a bunch of false comforters sit down, engage in false consolation. And they basically tell, you know, put up and shut up. You know, God’s wisdom exceeds your understanding. And, you know, you’re a little arrogant to think you can know and all this all kind of stuff. And he just finally will not have it and basically shakes his fist at the sky. And says, I want an answer. Yeah. And I, I think this is a crucial metaphor of how we experience suffering. We all ask “why?” particularly of medical tragedies, particularly of, you know, sudden deaths. My as it happens, I’m not going to tell you a sad story, but my brother just died before Christmas.

Kate I’m sorry.

Michael I am older than he is. Why is it that my brother, three years younger, my baby brother died before me? You do ask these questions and you must ask, Kate, questions about why me, why now, etc.. In this sense, we are all children of Job. We don’t simply say, okay, that’s the deal. Fine. We are always asking why. And that’s why consulation is built into human experience because consulation is the attempt to find an answer to the question of why we suffer and what’s pitiless about the Job story is that God basically says to Job, if I read what God says, right, he says. “You’re not going to find out. This is so far above your pay grade that you know, you can ask, fine. But I, God, the maker of the universe am not going to tell you. It’s just too hard for you to understand.” And, you know, boy, there’s something really chilling about God’s answer to Job.

Kate You seem to really, in your description, I think you write like “the man in rags, shaking his fist to the sky” and the refusal of an endless silence as something that we as people get to be given. Like, that’s the dignity we get is not just to accept things that don’t comfort us or that don’t help us hold up our stupid all-too-short lives. And it reminds me of how much I wanted an apology. And I felt so strange saying it, but I really wished after I was diagnosed that someone would just say, “I’m so sorry.” Because the things that really take our lives apart so rarely we get. We might say, “This cost me this.” We might say, “I couldn’t possibly.” “This will take everything.” But we don’t always get that dignity of an answer, of that feeling of someone apologizing. I’d take God, you know, just thunders voice and whatnot. But even just I would have taken it from somebody else. The like, I didn’t invent cancer, but I just wanted, you know, on behalf of mortality, I’m really sorry.

Michael Yes. Yes, Oh, boy. Kate, I hear you. I really do. We want someone to apologize. For how life has turned out, you know, and I kind of want an apology on behalf of my brother’s life. He had a tough … he was dealt terrible cards. And you feel it intimately as a brother because we’ve got the same genetics, we were we were dealt the same sort of genetic cards. And my cards are absolutely fantastic. And his cards were terrible. And there’s just no justice to it. And I, I don’t feel guilty about those. Guilt would be meaningless. But I feel sad about it. And it kind of really makes no sense that I’m alive and he’s dead. I mean, it just doesn’t doesn’t add up. But in your situation, yeah, I would want someone to speak out of the sky and say, “Kate, I’m just, I’m just really sorry.” You know, I wish we’d constructed life in a better way, you know?

Kate Yes, this seems like a design flaw.

Michael This is a bug. This is not what this is about. But the problem is it’s a feature.

Kate Yes, that’s right.

Michael It’s not a bug. It’s a feature. And that’s, I think, the grandeur, the greatness of the Job stories to tell us. This is a feature. This is this how it goes. And you will be faced with experiences in your life that simply don’t have an explanation. And what then matters terribly is to be with good people.

Kate I got it. Yeah. I wanted to ask you about that, because what does it mean to be hopeful? I think one of the answers you would give is to be with to have a deep and beautiful interdependence with other people and that you can feel their love for you and that goes all the way down for you. Is that right?

Michael I guess so. I guess so, Kate. But I. Again, I want to stress something that’s also troubling, which is you can’t trust or know people very well. And I’ve been terribly lucky just because of the person I married. But even there, you know, you have to work on it every day because you can you can throw good fortune and hard work away with a casual, callous, stupid remark. I think what’s actually good to understand is you can’t count on anything and you can’t count on anybody. What you can count on is, is working with them to keep the granite under your feet. You know what I mean? You can’t you can’t just go to them and say, I’ve had a bad blow and I need your help. Often when you go to people and say, I need your help, you don’t get it. You just don’t. And it’s a terrible shock because you think I counted on you. I thought you’d be there for me.

Kate Yeah.

Michael This is not an autobiographical story. I’ve had wonderful … When I’ve gone to people, they’ve been wonderful. But I just don’t want, I don’t want happy talk about this.

Kate You don’t seem to believe in solutions. I’m going to put it that way. You do believe in, like, a like accumulated wisdom, but you’re not going to be like, “Look. The solution is people.”

Michael No, I don’t either. I think that’s right, Kate. I don’t believe in solutions. I also don’t want to make fun ever of the things that make a difference to people. There are a lot of books on shelves, how-to books about how to overcome grief or how to think more positively or be helpful. It’s easy work for someone like me to be scornful and elitist and disdainful towards this stuff. When disaster strikes you, you should reach for whatever makes a difference. It could be just eating a lot of chocolate. I don’t know.

Kate Well, you and I don’t believe in formulas, which I like. There have not been very many things that I would ever say, well, I would certainly never say that anything was a solution in my life. I have enjoyed the work I do to get to look for meaning. I have enjoyed the framework I have for my own faith. I’ve enjoyed all those things as being the way I get to see the world and participate in it. But none of them really feel like solutions. I would say, so I love your work on this because I find myself saying, absolutely, I totally agree. I just had one very awkward situation that happened to me that I know it’s it well, it embarrasses me to talk about. But when I was in the hospital, I had this very intense experience of feeling loved. Loved in a way that didn’t make any sense. I thought I was supposed to die in a few months. I was horrified and very angry that this was my ridiculous fate, that I built a beautiful life and it was all going to come apart. I had a two-year-old son. I was just like pissed in a way that only the dying can be. But I felt extremely loved by other people, but also in a very embarrassing way, by God. And I thought, well, this doesn’t make any sense. And so I asked a number of other, because I work at a divinity school, other sort of historical theologians and whatnot. And I was like, any guesses about what’s happening to me? Because it felt sort of like just being cushioned, like you were supposed to fall all the way down and didn’t. And they said, oh, yeah, they I mean, they had some historical examples of other people who had had this certain kind of sweetness in the midst of tragedy that felt exactly like the way you describe consolation. And they said, “Oh, and it’ll definitely go away.” And I thought that was so funny. And it did. It lasted a couple of months, which was all was very odd. And then I thought, well, I’ll never talk about that again. But I do believe, you know, I’ve studied faith healers and miracle chasers and miracle promisers for a long time. So I have such an intense skepticism about people who would ever sell a solution. But every now and then, I do feel like we get surprised by something that we can’t have engineered.

Michael Yes.

Kate I guess that sort of did change my view of what I think maybe we get as a bonus sometimes. But I would certainly never assure people that they’d have something like it.

Michael You’ve taken us into very deep water. I have not, I don’t think I’ve ever felt what you just described, feeling that sense of God’s love. But it has consoled people for millennia. It’s a real feeling. And I don’t have personal faith. My brother did. My father did. And I hate condescension or dismissal. This is the part of the Enlightenment, the European Enlightenment, which I otherwise love, that I hate. I just don’t like the anti-religious side of it because it seems stupid. I mean, we have, as I said before, we need all the help we can get. The book, in fact, my book, in fact, began because I went to a choral festival in Utrecht in the Netherlands, and heard the Psalms performed by four wonderful choirs over a weekend. And I didn’t know much about the Psalms and I love choral music, but I sat there with my wife and we were just completely stunned by the impact of the Psalms. The language which was put up above the stage in Dutch and English and by the music, and the combination, reduced many people to tears. People were weeping the whole weekend with a sense of what I guess the religious people call grace. I mean, just grace descended and I’m as close to a bone-dry secularist as you could want. But I just think, let’s not be stupid here. I’m absolutely delighted, Kate, that you felt, in the hospital, that you experienced love from a source that you couldn’t identify exactly, but you felt it was God. I just think this stuff is … All of this is bigger than us and it’s bigger than our wisdom. It’s too deep and and in extreme situations of real suffering where you’re afraid for your life, A, And you’re incandescently angry because you know, you’ve got a child and you want to live forever and you just can’t believe this is happening. It’s a gift of grace to feel you’re being loved. I think it’s just terribly important. You know, I hope my brother, who died before Christmas, felt grace as he died. I think that’s what I most wish for him. He was visited by his priest and given the last rites. And I think that was enormously important to him because I think he felt his faith, his community…absolutely

Kate Buttressed. Yeah. Yeah. Well, thanks. Your desire to find what we still know at the limits of our own belief. At the limits of our own worldview. What is still there is such a wonderful, powerful examination and I have been deeply inspired by the courage and ruthlessness that takes to have that kind of honesty. Michael, thank you so much for being a companion to me in how I think about what endures. I am so grateful for this conversation.

Michael I really enjoyed it. Good luck, Kate. Thank you so much.

Kate I love that Michael doesn’t denigrate, put down, condescend to anyone’s attempt for comfort, anyone’s desire to ask for what consolation lasts. We all need to feel like we are holding on to something that feels like hope, even when all we feel is despair. So here’s a little blessing for that. It’s from our new book of blessings, The Lives We Actually Have. And it’s a blessing for when hope is hard to find. “Hope is only a half-remembered dream behind a closed door. Could you bless, God, this honesty that feels like despair? Can we whisper that, somehow, blessed are we, with spirits starved for what is good? Allow our eyes to see this small, sealed space where pain has isolated us. Cut through the walls of this hard prison and flood it with the light of your presence. Blessed are we who have a glimmer of certainty that in this dark expanse, and as sure as day follows night, hope returns.” All right, my loves. If you’re having one of those hopeless seasons. I want you to know that we are thinking especially of you. Bless you, my dears. I’ll see you next week.

Kate This episode of the Everything Happens podcast was made possible because of our generous partners, Lilly Endowment, the Duke Endowment, Duke Divinity School and Leadership Education. And of course, nothing is possible without the wisdom and expertise of my absolutely fabulous team. Jessica Richie, my heart, I love you. Harriet Putman, Keith Weston, Gwen Heginbotham, Brenda Thompson, Hope Anderson, Jeb Burt, and Katherine Smith. This really is my very favorite kind of group project. So if you want to know what else we’re up to, head over to katebowler.com/newsletter so you don’t miss a thing. I would really love to hear what you thought about this episode. Would you consider leaving a review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify? It means a ton to us when we hear what you liked or who you want to hear in conversation next. Also, we really love hearing your voice. Feel free to leave us a voicemail. We might even use it on the air. So call us at 919-322-8731. All right, lovelies. I’ll talk to you next week. But in the meantime, come find me online, @katecbowler. This is Everything Happens with me, Kate Bowler.

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