“Hope empties our hands in order that we may work with them. It shows us that we have something to work for, and teaches us how to work for it.” – Thomas Merton
I’ve been thinking about the concept of hope. What it means to have hope, how does one attain hope, the difference between hope and optimism, and how hope is this invisible force that seemingly propels us through and through.
The other night at small group, I asked if it’s hard to hope right now. Be it another heartbreaking headline about a wildfire, shooting or ongoing war, how is it that we are able to contain an inkling of light when it feels like we live in a constant state of shadows? There is no neat answer. Some may exclaim The End of Times or some coming of the Book of Revelation. However, the truth of the matter is there is no way to explain away what we read or witness. Which, I think, is why hope is even more necessary.
I don’t want to write this Call to Hope lightly as a way to replace the bad with the fluffy. Hope is not a form of optimism. In fact, giving ourselves unto hope is an understanding that, to know what is and what should be, holds us responsible to act. As I’ve read somewhere before, “Hope makes us aware of injustice, oppression, and fear … Most of all, hope allies itself with the hopeless, the exhausted, the forgotten, whom official history has relegated to the margins of worthlessness.” The greatest teacher we could have today is hope.
Have you ever, with great intention, watched fall or spring slowly arrive and slowly fade? It’s impressive what the Earth is capable of. Somehow, it knows when it is time to die unto itself and when to begin again; as if Mother Nature holds onto the hope of what it is ahead and proceeds. Cynthia Bourgeault, a writer for the Center for Contemplation and Action, describes this kind of hope as a way “not to lose sight of what is coming to us from the future.” Perhaps nature is the most gifted student of hope.
The unknown will always be in the process of unfolding. Not unlike the process of nature, we, too, feel the rhythm of life take us through death both figurative and literal. We are witnesses to varying injustices across our world, all of the same degree. At home, it is the systemic racism and bigotry. Across seas, it is genocide occurring in Syria and Myanmar. And, still, I’m asking us to hope in and through this.
Hope has a way – is the way! – to remember there is still something ahead. The very nature of hope is a calling to remember what, well, Richard Dawkins – a renowned atheist – said about what it means to be in this very moment: “Imagine that the present moment is a spotlight moving its way across a ruler that shows the billions of years the universe has been around. Everything to the left of the area lit by the spotlight is over; to the right is the uncertain future. The chances of us being in the spotlight at this particular moment–of being alive–are minuscule. And yet here we are.”
And yet, here we are.
As Christian, I read Luke 20:36 with great conviction that “we are children of the resurrection” as this confirms we have faced a certain kind of death and risen with the Cosmic Christ in us. The same Cosmic Christ that drives our lives forward with an understanding that life will be neither be perfect nor ideal; however because we know – full heart, body, mind, and soul – about the Hope that lies within and ahead of us, we are to be suppliers for others. Learning to hope is being ever-present. This is what makes hope so different than optimism: hope is not to be hoarded or claimed for self only. Instead, it offers what is reality and calls us forward into it.
Though unseen, hope is our burden of proof.
Hope will see us through the headlines and through shadows. May we truly know what it means to be alive in this very moment to face these very events with others who need what we know. And to remember that Hope will be unfolding long after we are gone.