This week, in the midst of cancer treatment, I had reason to lean into hope. Here are some “soundings in hope” I pondered.
This week I remembered Hope Bear, a pastoral care assistant at one of the congregations I served. This cuddly teddy bear resided with older children and with women for a time as they underwent surgery or struggled with trying illnesses. Hope lost an ear at one point, which I thought appropriate, since many of her recipients had missing body parts. I gave her to someone permanently a few years back.
A woman with Parkinson’s disease sewed Hope Bear for me. Hope was one of the last sewing projects her hands could manage.
I remembered a conversation I had long ago with a person with a chronic illness. I was amazed by his wisdom, and still am.
He said something like this:
“Our society is so big on control, on happiness being defined in particular ways. But to even try to define hope is a kind of control. Because if we can define something, then we think we can measure it. And if we can measure it, then we think we should be able to manufacture it or duplicate it.
“Maybe it’s only when things happen that we can’t control that we begin to enter into hope. Maybe it’s only when we come up against a barrier, up against mystery.
“Maybe sometimes we need to declare hope without explanation or proof, even when our experience challenges it.”
I remembered standing one evening as a choir sang the Hallelujah Chorus in a concert hall. And it seemed to me that we were up against mystery. By standing and listening (or by standing and singing!), we were declaring Christian hope without explanation or proof, in spite of or perhaps because of some of our recent experiences.
As I looked around, I saw numbers of people who had endured serious illnesses, or who had come through difficult times of one sort or other. I hadn’t known whether some of these folks would ever be able to enjoy an evening at a concert hall again, much less sing such an affirmation of Christian hope.
But there we were. I imagined us as a sort of temporary community holding ourselves and others in God’s hope.
Standing for the Hallelujah Chorus, I remembered that the first Christians relocated hope. Hope finds its true home, they said, in Jesus’ death and resurrection. These usher in a reign of God that has no end – in which all of us are called to participate.
I’ve concluded that hope is different from optimism and positive thinking. It’s also not the same thing as wishing. Wishing tends to focus on specific objects or outcomes, as in “I wish I would have traveled more.” Wishing can become quite a self-absorbing and self-absorbed activity.
Hope focuses instead on the larger picture, often including but going beyond human activity, as in “I hope for God’s reign on this beautiful planet.” At the very same time, hope recognizes limitations, and can actually be quite ordinary in its expectations, as in “This fall I hope to drive into the countryside to revel in the coloured leaves.”
In A Prayer for Standing on Tiptoe, Macrina Wiederkehr puts together our “Kingdom-loving hearts” and our “earth eyes” in describing the location of hope. Her prayer poem concludes:
“But still we stand
Owning our kingdom-loving hearts
and our earth-eyes
We lean forward
God be with you till be meet again (HWB #430) was our sending song at church last Sunday. It felt like our local Christian community was singing itself into the hope and the expectation of God’s loving care. All week, I’ve wrapped myself in this hymn’s lyrics, enhanced by Ralph Vaughan Williams’ comforting tune.
This weekend and always, may you abound in hope!
Questions for Reflection:
- For you, what is the difference between wishing and hoping?
- What are some of your deepest hopes?
Next week: TBA