To hope is to gamble. Its to bet on the future, on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty is better than gloom and safety. To hope is dangerous, and yet it is the opposite of fear, for to live is to risk. I say all this because hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. I say it because hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency; because hope should shove you out the door
from the book Hope in the darkness
Nearly two weeks in to Advent and I am still mulling over this thing called hope.
I love this quote from Rebecca Solnit.
Hope is a dangerous business, she goes on to say, hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope. To have hope is how we give ourselves to the future, and that commitment to the future makes the present inhabitable.
Hope is not some simple emotion or nice thing we can feel. Hope has to be real as I said in my first Advent post.
I finished that post by saying
If we think people have no hope, it is because we have not yet shown that hope is possible.
This prompted some though, and continues to do so for me.
How do we show that hope is possible?
If we take the passage for Hope in the dark literally, unless the things we think give us hope actually compel us into action, to break down the doors, to fight against the things that cause all sorts of emergencies, unless it does these things it is not hope.
Take the utterly dreadful event yesterday in Connecticut. People are saying, “now is not the time to fight for gun control”. Maybe, no, strike that, IT IS. And by doing so means that those now faced with the kind of pain I never want to experience, might just find the courage to be alive, that it might just be a way to help the present be inhabitable.
grace and peace
Today is the feast day of St John of the Cross, Spanish mystic and poet. He is best known for “The Dark Night of the Soul”, which describes the difficulties met by the soul in seeking union with God. Here’s an English version of his poem “Tras de un amoroso lance”, which beautifully captures a number of types of hope: the initial optimism leading to seeming success; the ‘nearly there’ hope; the ‘shot in the dark’ hope; the hope in the face of despair; and the willed hope – hope is achieved by hoping.
Full of hope I climbed the day
while hunting the game of love,
and soared so high, high above
that I at last caught my prey.
In order to seize the game
– the divine love in the sky –
I had to fly so high, high
I floated unseen and became
lost in that dangerous day;
and so my flight fell short of
height — yet so high was my love
that I at last caught my prey.
Dazzled and stunned by light
as I rose nearer the sun,
my greatest conquest was won
in the very black of night.
Yet since love opened my way
I leapt dark, blindly above
and was so high, near my love,
that at last I caught my prey.
In this most exalted quest
the higher I began to soar
the lower I felt — more sore
and broken and depressed.
I said: None can seize the prey!
and groveled so low, so low
that high, higher did I go,
and at last I caught my prey.
By strange reckoning I saw
a thousand flights in one flight;
for hope of heavenly light
is achieved by hoping now.
I hoped only for this way
and was right to wait for love,
and climbed so high, high above
that at last I caught my prey.
St John of the Cross
English version by Willis Barnstone
This past year has been an interesting experience for us as a family. We’ve had something like a year ‘off’ church, in the sense that we haven’t been to a Sunday service for, well, I guess that long.
I’m not particularly proud of this fact , but it is part of a journey that has seen us move away from institution towards community – although there is still much to be done on this.
At times I’ve wondered if I still believe in anything. At times I’ve wanted to be back in the safe arms of singing and preaching and all that churchy stuff – because it’s easy. But it didn’t happen. This path has been where we needed to be.
Lately, however, I’ve been experiencing something of a rekindling of this faith thing within me, like this part of hope that has been missing reawakening deep within. It’s like a sense that having detoxed it’s time to claim that which is pure and good about being ‘church’, time to return from the wilderness (a place of rich adventure for me).
So, my hope at the close of this year and with the birth of a new one within sight is to see this hope ‘fanned into flame’, to borrow a phrase. My part of this is to be open to the unknown, to embrace a new, adventurous wilderness of following, and be committed to my community and to the Jesus who calls us on to ‘be’ and ‘do’.
Hope burns eternal. That’s something worth believing in.
guest posted by Seb
I heard this poem at the Bike Shed theatre last Wednesday.
The performance was the ‘Steadfast Tin Soldier (Hans Christen Andersen)’ by the Worklight theatre. It was told as a comic yarn of makebelieve, chronicalling the adventures of a very steadfast, one legged, toy soldier who is a family airloom.
The very talented Joe Sellman composed this piece in his car on the way to the performance. It is the fathers response to the son who is in despair having just told his Dad that the soldier has mysteriously vanished.
My boy, my son, my child
That soldier seems ever so mild
But when I was young and asleep
That soldier would creep
Out and into the world
My child, my boy, my son
Although our hero cant run
He may have one leg
But he can shoot
If in trouble, he’ll just use his gun
My child, my son, my boy
Fear not for our favourite toy
Tin soldiers the best
And he’ll go on his quest
With valor, and courage, and joy
So, maybe when we creep out into the world it is steadfastness that will give us and others around us hope.
Great. So now I/we just need to work out what to be steadfast to!!
Hope means different things to different people, but it always means there’s something better to be had. As Christians the reason for our hope is Jesus, and that’s why we “look forward” to his birth, even though it’s already happened. With Jesus our hope is already fulfilled, being fulfilled and yet to be fulfilled. We have a reason for our hope, but there’s yet more to hope for as he is born into this world anew again and again.
Hope can die. That’s the sad thing. If the reason for your hope moves too far out of reach it can take your hope with it.
Jesus is the reason for our hope. How can we be Jesus to the world around us? How can we give people reason to hope this year? Hope was fulfilled when Jesus was born, hope begins at Christ’s birth. Let’s see him born in our communities.
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
As my advent gift, instead of chocolate, I’d like to share with you my favourite poet Leunig and my favourite cartoon of his; ‘How to Get There’.
Seasonally it reminds me of the little donkey who had to ‘keep on plodding onwards with your precious load’.
I guess I need to remind myself that I am both the donkey and the precious load.
Joanna Marple also shared a cartoon in the last few weeks;
‘The greatest gift you can give someone
is your own personal development,
I used to say,
‘If you take care of me,
I will take care of you’,
Now I say,
‘I will take care of me for you,
if you will take care of you for me’.
It’s hard work this personal development stuff. But I guess that keeping on with it, carrying this precious load and giving birth to precious things in the humble stable of my life….is perhaps what it’s all about…
by Ben Hunt
Vaclav Havel has had me thinking a lot this week. I’m still not sure if he’s right or if I agree with him but the more I reflect on these words the more sense they make. In his book Disturbing the Peace he writes:
‘Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how well it turns out’
As we head into Christmas, a time filled with hope for me, maybe these words ring true. Am I hopeful at this time of year because I think at some point everything is going to be fine or should it be more like at some stage in my life everything will make sense? What do you think?