Hope: a late-winter reflection

Watts - Hope 2The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” – Lamentations 3.19–24

To be human is to be a creature of hope, to be orientated towards something which or someone who transcends the boundaries of our own history and experience, and to see our life as anchored somewhere beyond view. I was reminded of this again recently when I was reading Václav Havel’s wonderful book Disturbing the Peace wherein he writes:

… the kind of hope I often think about (especially in situations that are particularly hopeless, such as prison) I understand above all as a state of mind, not a state of the world. Either we have hope within us or we don’t; it is a dimension of the soul, and it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation. Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons …

Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but, rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. The more unpropitious the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper that hope is. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. In short, I think that the deepest and most important form of hope, the only one that can keep us above water and urge us to good works, and the only true source of the breathtaking dimension of the human spirit and its efforts, is something we get, as it were, from “elsewhere.” It is also this hope, above all, which gives us the strength to live and continually to try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now. (pp. 181–82)

Christians, and people of other faiths too, will want to give a particular name to this ‘elsewhere’ of which Havel (who was an agnostic) speaks, and the ‘love’ and ‘mercies’ and ‘faithfulness’ of the Lord of which the writer of Lamentations (possibly Jeremiah) speaks, but the basic conviction here will be shared by all. For Christians, this ‘elsewhere’ has a name – Jesus Christ – and it has a particular shape – the cross and resurrection. And St Paul reminds us that to call upon this name, and to embody this cross-resurrection shape, and to participate in this hope – in this ‘elsewhere’ orientation – is something that we do not do alone, for the patient Spirit of God hopes along with us too, perhaps especially when things feel the most hopeless, and waits with us for all things to become new.

And this hoping also takes a particular kind of shape in our world. And it is important that it does, for as Edward Schillebeeckx reminds us, ‘Who could believe in a God who will make everything new later if it is in no way apparent from the activity of those who hope in the One who is to come that he is already beginning to make everything new now?’

Hope, in other words, does not allow us to remain unmoved, but the Spirit of hope ‘leads us into life, into the whole of life’, and encourages faith so that it does not degenerate into faintheartedness, and strengthens love so that it does not remain enclosed within itself and with those who are like it.

Hope leads everything.
For faith only sees what is.
But hope sees what will be.
Charity only loves what is.
But hope loves what will be –
In time and for all eternity. (Charles Péguy, as cited in Jürgen Moltmann, The Experiment Hope, 189)


Prayer (modified from Terry Falla, Be Our Freedom, Lord, and Rowland Croucher, ed., Still Waters, Deep Waters, 127–28)

O Lord our elsewhere, be for us the truth on which our life and death are built, the hope that cannot be destroyed, the freedom from which love and justice flow, and the joy that has eternity within it.

God of hope, we confess that we have fallen prey to false hopes; hopes of success, prestige, influence; we have invested ourselves emotionally in them only to be disappointed.

We pray for those we see deceived by the illusions of false hope; led by false shepherds, political and psychological messiahs who promise much, but deliver little.

We praise and thank you for our true hope, a sure and certain hope in your Son, and pray that even today we might live in the light of the last day. Help us not to be nostalgic for the past nor possessive of the present, but, with the Spirit’s help, to hold today and each day open to the future heritage of your Kingdom. Amen.


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