“The Sober Serenity of Faith,” by Rhoda E. McCulloch
January 6, 1947

In the statement outlining the editorial policy of Christianity and Crisis, printed in the issue of December 9, there is this sentence: “Such a faith will induce a kind of sober serenity which saves men from bitterness, despair and bewilderment.” As the days turn into the New Year, we can have no greater wish, for ourselves and for all men, than that we shall have this sober serenity.

The world of relationships can be fearfully destroyed by bitterness, despair and bewilderment long before the final blows from the instruments used to express these moods. To those who hold the Christian faith, both timeless in its essence and immediate in its imperatives, bitterness, despair and bewilderment are the very antithesis of the faith which we profess. Yet so common to all mankind are these experiences of frustration and hopelessness in these days of our testing that we can no longer attribute them only to those who follow some lesser leading; they find rootage in our own lives as Christians.

In uneasiness of mind, we find all sorts of reasons for the terrifying figures on the delinquency of youth, the high divorce rate. But attempts to press the family pattern back into the old lines is little more than patch work. Nor will it be enough to set up elaborate systems of personal counseling—as though the blind could lead the blind.

The distortions in the lives of individuals come from deep social maladjustments. Our own dismays and despairs as Christians derive from our bitter knowledge of this fact, our harried attempts to find some solution this side of the radical. We know, too, that it will not suffice to preach or teach the Christian philosophy of life. Those who do not hold this faith cannot be appeased by words about a life which is so faint-heartedly demonstrated.

This nation may already be living through an act in a great tragedy, unaware that it is a tragic people. We have power, and do not know how to use it. We do not know how to use this power because we cannot make a picture of the kind of world that we want to live in. Without imagination, the people perish. We are living in tragedy because we cannot house in our imagination all that we know, in detail, about the sufferings of hundreds of thousands, millions of people around the world. In poverty of imagination we think of piecemeal solutions to problems calling for world-wide adjustments of our economic and social structures. The great American tragedy is not that we turn away from these solutions in selfish isolationism, but that we have not yet imagined what they could be.

How many of us have lived through discussions of interracial relationships in which some more daring member of the minority group has tried to say what racial discrimination means to a person caught in its toils. For a moment we saw it plain, but only for a moment, not long enough to imagine what it would mean to that person if he were to be released from a system in the power of the majority to revoke.

As we enter this new year, eager to live it fully, to be aware of the astounding novelty of a world struggling to be one, and to play our part in this struggle, we pray for sober serenity. If it is to be the sober serenity of the Christian, we shall not find it in the closed garden of quietism. If the play is to be a tragedy, let us at least savor the essence of it. And it will be a tragedy, for as individuals and as a nation we shall fall short of our high calling.

There are as many definings of this sober serenity of the Christian as the number of those who seek to define it. We can only say to each other what is for us the most life-filled road to true serenity of spirit.

What would happen to us as individuals, and to those corporate expressions of human life and activity to which we belong, if we really believed that the redemptive processes of God were actually going on—now and continuously through all eternity? And, believing this, we would have to go on to believe that each one of God’s creatures was an indispensable part in this redemptive process, that God had not chosen a selected few, but that his purposes must flow through the lives of all people. Then all the people must be released from those bondages which now make it impossible for them to be free channels of the redemptive processes of God.

It would be hard to hold this belief and to live up to it, but it may be that only through some such holy act of imagination can we, in all humility, hope to possess the sober serenity called for in these days.

Rhoda E. McCulloch (1884 – 1978) wrote on education, religion, social progress, working women, marriage, and the women’s movement in Christianity and Crisis, The Association Monthly, and The Woman’s Press. She wrote The War and the Woman Point of View and was the editor-in-chief of The Woman’s Press, a publication of the Young Women’s Christian Association.