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

a reflection on a todd’s point sunrise service

[This year’s SSU students saw the sun rise from Todd’s Point, but that has not been a common occurrence. What follows is a reflection that Joel Mason wrote after a foggier Easter morning]

I remember going out one Easter morning with a few friends for an early sunrise service; we decided on Todd’s Point, a slab of rock overlooking the water. We had prepared in our minds vistas of sun and sea salt ricocheting off each other in dazzling displays of beauty and in reverent devotion to the occasion. But even as we plunked through the dark with our flashlights, guitars, and armfuls of firewood, we could tell that it would be a grey and misty beginning to the day. We lit the fire and huddled around its unimpressive flame, waiting for any sign that night had turned to light, that Jesus was anywhere close to exiting His tomb. I remember vividly the wall of fog that slowly revealed itself as the sun was dragged up over the hills, sitting invisible behind grey and white; we couldn’t even see the water. All we were left with was grey fog upon grey stone, our faces quickly following suit as the cold continued. We tried to play some songs of worship to raise our spirits but our fingers grew numb within seconds; We were speechless as the poetics of our time surrounded us: did God really raise Jesus from the dead? Perhaps we are fooling ourselves; we should’ve stayed in bed.

There is no part to this story where the sun comes out; no finale where our spirits are lifted by nature’s kind intervention, proving all our doubts to be counterfeit. The fog stayed with us for the whole day. And this is how the resurrection is to many; we know that it is supposed to be important but we often live with the sense that we are cut off from its depth, truncated from God in the hour when we should be most connected. The crucifixion is easier, at least in the sense that people are tortured and killed everyday. But the resurrection can seem to stand aloof from the grasping hands of our minds and hearts.

That morning, something else did happen. For me, it happened without drama and without organized fanfare. I looked up from the fire to see my friend walking down the rock to the place where the impenetrable wall of fog shot up from the water. In his right hand he held a conch, a shell that you can us and beyond us into the formless mass. It peeled like bells in the wilderness. It was a distress call and a song of praise all in one. It was mystery colliding with history colliding with our small brains, bodies, hearts. It was protest and lament, thanksgiving and stubborn hope. Soon after, we packed up and trod the muddy trail back to our cars and, in our cars, back to our beds.

I want to put my hand in the scarred side of the risen Jesus. But sometimes all there is is my feeble song of faith sounding into a formless void. Somehow, on that day, it was enough. My friends and I had a certain idea of how our celebration of the resurrection of Jesus should be; and it was thwarted quite completely. But perhaps what really needed deconstructing was our idea of the resurrection itself. Perhaps the strange mix of disappointment and joy that sat in my belly as our car jangled and bumped its way home was the realization that we had indeed celebrated the risen Jesus. Can a celebration be akin to a cry against a void? Can something be so mysterious and so explosive that its sound waves escape you completely?

One day the fog will lift and I will scatter song in the full assembly of the sun and sky; but until that day, my heart does not stop singing. It is fired by a sun which shines as well in darkness as it does in light. My song does not have to be a certain melody of clarity and picturesque moments; it can exist, can thrive, can still utter the only refrain I believe when I believe nothing else: He is Risen.

– Joel Mason, St. Stephen’s Prayer Book 

on hope through hard times

Hope… 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.… 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 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 our do, here and now.

– Vaclav Havel, (Czech playwright and dissident, originally published in Czech in 1986, this excerpt from Disturbing the Peace is included in the chapter “An Orientation of the Heart” from The Impossible Will Take a Little While.)

Some Advent thoughts from Jean Vanier

[these words from Jean Vanier were not particularly addressed to the advent season, but they seemed very relevant to me]

Do we understand God’s vision for humanity or are we just closed up in our own little worlds? Can peace come? Is there hope for Kosovo, Israel, Palestine, Iraq or Northern Ireland? Is there hope in this world where the gap between the rich and the poor is growing daily? Is there hope? Yes, there is hope! There is hope because God is. God is! And though there is the silence of God, there is also the mystery of God working in the hearts of people doing beautiful things. They don’t hit the headlines. The headlines are frequently things of pain – catastrophes, death. We don’t see all the peace-loving people breaking down the barriers to work together and to love each other. All of us can understand the reaction of Peter. Maybe if we found Jesus kneeling at our feet we would react in the same way. We want a big God who fixes our problems. We don’t want a little God saying, ‘I need you and I’ll come and live in you. I’ll give you a new strength, a new spirit and you shall work so people become free and loving and peace-making: We always want a God who is going to fix our problems, but God is saying, ‘I’ll give you the strength so you become one of those who work with others to bring peace to our world.’

– Jean Vanier, Encountering ‘the Other’

keepsake – a poem by Milton Brasher-Cunningham

[This week, SSU was blessed with a visit from author/chef/blogger, Milton Brasher-Cunningham, who gave a short reading and chat at lunch. This is a poem from his new book, Keeping the Feast]

keepsake

there are some nights
when the sky turns
the color of friendship
and fades into the crisp
darkness of gratitude
we ate with friends
drank and talked as well
and then walked away
dropping bits of hope
like breadcrumbs
along the sidewalks
and silent porches
finding our way home
to our porch light
our beacon of belonging
summer will come
and winter will follow
and footprints will fade
but not this indelible
wisp of memory

by Milton Brasher-Cunningham, from Keeping the Feast