Tuesday, 29 November 2016

What is hope?

What is hope?

If you are looking for a dictionary definition of hope, you won't find it here. What you will find are some ideas about hope that have helped me.


I'm using this image from October 2016 of a Syrian refugee child in Istanbul, Turkey. I love the hopeful expression on her face. A child is for me a sign of hope, of new life-enhancing possibilities, even in the middle of desparate situations.

'Hope' is an important word and theme of the Advent season. This year hope feels especially needed when so much has happened in 2016 to increase a sense of despair.

3 days ago on Advent Sunday I wrote about Entering Advent with Hope and about the truth that enables hope. Here are some further thoughts about hope.


What is hope?


Hope is the antidote to despair.
Hope is not a denial of reality.
Hope is not wishful thinking.


Hope transforms darkness to light


In her book 'Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope' Sister Joan Chittester notes the importance of hope in all the world's religions:
"Hope is a series of small actions that transform darkness into light. It is putting one foot in front of the other when we can find no reason to do so at all.
A Native American tale tells of the elder who was talking to a disciple about tragedy. The elder said, "I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is the vengeful, angry, violent one. The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one." The disciple asked, "But which wolf will win the fight in your heart?" And the holy one answered, "It depends on which one I feed." 
The spiritual task of life is to feed the hope that comes out of despair. Hope is not something to be found outside of us. It lies in the spiritual life we cultivate within. The whole purpose of wrestling with God is to be transformed into the self we were meant to become, to step out of the confines of our false securities and allow our creating God to go one creating. In us."
I get Sister Joan Chittester's point about hope lying "in the spiritual life we cultivate within" but I don't entirely go along with the idea that 'hope is not something to be found outside of us'.

I see hope as one of the 3 virtues (faith, hope and love) that St Paul writes about it 1 Corinthians 13:13. These remain when everything else passes away. Hope, like faith and love, are gifts of God, so do come from outside of us. Hope come from God who is outside of us. We may discover hope within and cultivate hope by our actions. The challenge in times of despair is to open our eyes to small green shoots of hope and nurture those wherever we find them. In doing so, it helps to remember that God, who is the source of hope, is not only outside of us, but also behind us, before us, beside us and within us.


How can we root our lives in Christian hope?


In an article on the Taizé website about Christian Hope the question is asked, "how can we root our lives in Christian hope?" Here is the start of the answer:
"Biblical and Christian hope does not mean living in the clouds, dreaming of a better life. It is not merely a projection of what we would like to be or do. It leads us to discover seeds of a new world already present today, because of the identity of our God, because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This hope is, in addition, a source of energy to live differently, not according to the values of a society based on the thirst for possession and competition."
It's worth reading the whole short article for one of the best explanations of what is specific about the hope that comes from faith in God, who is the source of hope,
"a God who simply loves us and can do nothing else, a God who never stops seeking us."

Over to you


How would you define hope?
What do you hope for this Advent?
What signs of hope can you see today?


Image Credit: Wikipedia, CC License

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