Cultural Hope


“But what on earth can I write?”

This was what I wrestled with last week as I thought about writing for A Life Overseas. Half of you are displaced, wrestling with when you can get back to your host countries and homes. Half of you are sheltered in place in various places around the world, struggling with what that means. All of you are wondering “Did we make the right decision?”

All of these realities are compounded by the unknown world beyond Covid-19. Some of you are farther ahead. I have friends in Shanghai that encourage me there is life beyond shelter in place and quarantine orders. My son in Greece will be able to attend church next week for the first time in eight weeks. Others are still cautiously waiting. Still others are grieving things beyond Covid-19, worried for things that cannot easily be shared.

All of us are in need of the deep healing that only comes from God.

A few years ago, my husband and I were in an art gallery. Various paintings by different artists were beautifully displayed in an open space. There was light and beauty all around us.

I don’t remember any of the paintings except one. And that one I will never forget.

It was two feet wide and at least three and a half feet long. It hung on a dominant wall in the gallery and, despite sharing the space with several other paintings, this was the painting that I could not stop looking at. It was striking.

It was a picture of an art gallery, much like the gallery we were in. Within the gallery in the picture was a painting of Jesus on the cross on the central wall. Looking up at the painting, hope and longing pouring from the canvas was a man in a wheelchair. The painting was called “Cultural Hope.”

It was a moment of awe as we in the studio stood, invited in to this private moment between Jesus and a wheelchair-bound man. It was reminiscent of stories long ago where in a crowded room a paralyzed man was healed – only this man was still wheel-chair bound.

I knew nothing of the artist. Nothing of what had inspired the painting, but I wanted to stand there forever. Was it the longing in the man’s eyes? Was it the distinctive connection between the two? Was it that moment of shared suffering between cross and wheelchair that shouted of pain and only whispered of redemption?

I walked away challenged and moved. While this man’s wheelchair was visual, my wheelchair is in my mind. While his paralysis was obvious, mine is hidden. But I, like the man in the painting, have looked up at the cross shouting with pain and hearing only the whisper of redemption.

Throughout history people have come to the cross. Sometimes they have come with their own pain, illness, and suffering, and other times they have come with the burdens of others. Sometimes they have come with the weight and fury of injustice and unfair systems. Always they have come with longing for comfort in a broken world – comfort that can be found in a Savior that entered our world and knows our suffering.

As I reflected on the world wide suffering, confusion, fear, and even anger, I remembered this painting. I remembered what it evoked in me as I entered the moment portrayed through the painting. It struck me that this is us during this time. We are the man in the wheelchair. We look up toward Jesus on the cross from whatever binds us, from those things that paralyze us. We come to the cross with shouts of pain, longing, confusion, worry, or fear. Our cries are general and our cries are personal.

“Will you hear our public cries for the world? Will you hear our private cries for those we love? Will you heal our lands of the many things that prevent us from flourishing? Will you heal us – not only of disease but of so many other deep wrongs? Will you heal our paralysis and help us to act?”

Will you heal; will you act?

Shouts of pain and only whispers of redemption.

The longer I stand before the cross, the louder is the whisper. It compels me, urging me to wait, reminding me that the cross was replaced by an empty tomb, that the painting goes beyond “cultural hope” to a living reality.

This is our cultural hope. This is our living reality. We can’t see it, but that is the very definition of faith. We hold out for “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” And, if only for a moment, we rest.

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An adult third culture kid, Marilyn grew up in Pakistan and then raised her own 5 third culture kids in Pakistan and Egypt. After finally learning how to live in the United States, she finds herself unexpectedly living in the Kurdish Region of Iraq working at a university. She is the author of Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging and Worlds Apart - A Third Culture Kid's Journey. Her writing appears in Plough Magazine, Fathom Magazine, and a few other places around the web. You can find her blogging at Communicating Across Boundaries: Communicating Across the Boundaries of Faith & Culture.

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