hope is participatory

Is hope practical—a pragmatic tool to help you navigate the muck-and-mire of life? Or is it about shattering the practical so that new possibilities can be dreamed, imagined, and birthed?

For all its mystery, I know that hope is important. I know because I’ve wrestled with the apathy, resignation, and despair that befriend you in its absence.

“Hope,” American poet Emily Dickinson famously penned, “is the thing with feathers/That perches in the soul,/And sings the tune without the words,/And never stops — at all.”

There is something really beautiful about this image of hope as a winged melody-maker—a constant friend that “no storm” can break, and that keeps you warm on “the chilliest land,/And on the strangest sea.”

Hope is always present, she says, and “yet never, in extremity…asked a crumb of me.”

This, truth be told, is where Dickinson loses me. In my own eye-of-a-storm, swimming-upstream, wandering-in-a-desert (or whatever other metaphor) kind of moments, I’ve often waited for hope to arrive, crossing my fingers that it might spontaneously re-emerge somehow.

Well, perhaps waiting is not my forte, but more and more I believe that hope does ask something—often a lot (and usually more than just a “crumb”)—of us, particularly in our darkest moments.

Hope, I think, is participatory.

In my own preoccupation with hope, I’ve been trying different images and metaphors on for size. I’ve imagined hope as a habit that must be practiced. Or as a muscle that must be flexed—a muscle that, admittedly, I’ve let atrophy in recent years. I’m still exploring what practices help me rebuild that muscle, what tools might challenge the muscle memory of cynicism (built up over years!), which can quickly pull me back into old stories and habits of thinking.

To circle back to Dickinson’s metaphor, I believe more every day that for hope to live, thrive, and be resilient, I need to feed it. After all, what you choose to feed gets stronger.

– from an Advent reflection by Jenny Wiebe, interim director of the MCC Ottawa Office

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