I recently read a piece with the above title in the New York Times, written by Roxanne Gay, who offers an overview of worrisome situations in the government, international issues, immigration, wars, hunger, the climate crisis, and so on. She ponders what advice she would offer this year’s graduates if she were giving the address about their potential and their futures. One thing is sure: “I don’t traffic in hope. Realism is more my ministry than unbridled optimism. Hope allows us to leave what is possible in the hands of others.” She continues, aligning hope with apathy, complacency, and indecisiveness.
I think she actually is referring to optimism, a state which can be a bit thin and ethereal, and easily lost. I do not think she is describing the Hope we Christians share, which is far more a roll-up-the-sleeves and get-down to business venture. We call it a theological virtue, which means it is both gift and practice, shared with us by God and by us with each other; in the service of God’s future, the gathering of all creation, all peoples, into One—a future for which we have a shared longing but cannot fully embrace. Nonetheless, God has placed us, fired by the Spirit of Christ Jesus, in a world in which he himself suffered amid the trials of human life in an unfinished universe.
Encouraging each other, taking on the burdens as we can and forging on, struggling to remain open to God’s presence among us and God’s design revealed a little at a time to us and through us; praying, singing, preaching, listening, consoling those who are burdened and those who cannot see or feel at this moment, we are buoyed by Hope– not crushed by defeats, bemoaning our helplessness, or yielding to fears that keep us stopped or stuck or hiding.
A huge amount of work is involved in loving and serving God’s people, God’s creation. And here Hope helps us to discern our place in this divine-human entanglement. We are not in charge and we should not take ourselves so seriously. Our lives are a miniscule part of the thousand energies involved over the eons of the Trinitarian adventure; we will not finish the mission. We are weak, and have our faults, we anger and grieve one another, and will never perform to our own satisfaction.
In hoping, we welcome God as the energy, the source and the goal, who is ever gracious and merciful and knows and loves us deeply. Hope keeps us attentive to our limits, as well as to the special call we have, the specific Word we speak, each of us given unique purpose, a labor to love.
Emily Dickinson writes a tribute to hope that begins, “Hope is the thing with feathers/ that perches in the soul/ and sings the tune without the words/and never stops at all.”
Her poem charms me, and has its own truth. But I’m tempted to start with “Hope is the thing with muscles.”