Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Thoughts on Hope

“Every divine action disturbs: it foils our expectations and our calculations, our hopes and our fears, in a striking manner.”
- Jean-Louis Chretien

To me, hope seems natural; it’s as if human beings are always hoping for something. We usually hope for particular things: for a long, happy life; for a new job; for a child; etc. When these legitimate hopes are fulfilled, it is a gift from God. But these particular hopes are also finite, limited and thus subject to all sorts of accidents and disappointments. The unfulfillment of our hopes is something with which we are all more or less familiar.

There is a deeper hope that rests in God even when our conscious desires are left unfulfilled, shattered by circumstances outside of our control. If my small efforts at contemplative prayer have taught me anything, it is that our ideas and expectations about God are always coming undone in the silent encounter with God. Divine action “foils our expectations and our calculations, our hopes and our fears, in a striking manner.” God’s action undoes our conscious hopes; indeed, if we knew what to hope for, perhaps we would not be hoping for God at all but merely for our own ideas. You all are probably familiar with these lines from T. S. Eliot that express a similar sentiment: “I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope/ For hope would be hope for the wrong thing.”

It seems to me, then, that if hope is anything, it must be a basic stance that we take, a way of living in the world--rather than a commitment to particular ideas about our future or doctrines about heaven. It is an openness toward God who is newly present in each moment; it is a commitment to wait for, be present to the God whose action goes beyond our imaginative capacity.

In some ways, this is unsatisfying. I’d like a definite, hopeful vision I can hold onto in hard times. God’s foiling of our conscious expectations is not always a pleasant experience. But this hope, even though it doesn’t have a definite object, is far from empty. It is hope for an unforeseeable but certain encounter with God. It is openness to something new and different, infinitely more than we could think. While it is not hope in a particular doctrine or image, it is hope in the God “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3). As hopeful people, we live in an attitude of trust toward something that goes far beyond our comprehension and our conscious desires.

8 comments:

Kate said...

That is powerful.

living stones said...

John, I'm encouraged and strengthened by reading this post. I'm with you when you write, "I'd like a definite, hopeful vision I can hold onto in hard times." Instead, God draws me to himself. I'm reminded how we often ask each other, Do we want the giver or the gift? When my self-constructed vision has been peeled away--and as you say, "...this is not always a pleasant experience"--I'm somehow enabled to let go. At that point I can genuinely respond, I want the giver. This brings me full circle back to waiting in silence, trusting in his presence and action. Thanks so much for your investment in writing such a thoughtful, insightful reflection on hope. Blessings, Anna

Daniel said...

I, too, am thankful for your investment in writing this post. I want my hope to be more of a "stance" or "a way of living," less influenced by or attached to my ideas about God and my own desires. And though I'm committed to this, I inevitably confuse the two in the midst of daily life. Thanks for offering this reflection as a helpful reminder.

jen said...

"If hope is anything, it must be a basic stance we take, a way of living in the world--"

This morning I was listening to the hymn In Christ Alone, and the first verse says "In Christ alone my hope is found." I thought of your post John, and I have been very much encouraged by it. After listening to this hymn, I would even venture to say that if Christ is anything, He must be the foundation for the stance we take, the only way by which we live in the world. If hope exists, if Christ is, then I believe you are right: they are natural and good and calling us to be open and new in each moment. I'm still thinking about the implications of hope being deeply rooted in our lives, and I appreciate your posting.

RC said...

John, thank you for this wise, insightful post. I could quote several different insights from it and say they were my favorite, but this one really does stand out to me: "...rather than a commitment to particular ideas about our future or doctrines about heaven. [Hope] is an openness toward God who is newly present in each moment...." Amen! I continue to be grateful for the way we are encouraging and supporting one another in living our lives in God this way. It really means a lot to me.
--Rickey

Paul Corrigan said...

I'm grateful for your post, John, and for the comments by everyone else, in this recent round of inter-relating.

I like the idea of hope being natural. I like to think that all of the good things of the gospel way of living--all the fruit of the spirit--are natural in the sense of they just happen when we don't have things in the way actively preventing them, when we learn to live in the spirit, which was our first condition.

May we do this in our dialogue and beyond our dialogue.

Mark Wills said...

John, I've really missed seeing you around VDS! Thanks for this deep post. My favorite part was the last sentence: "As hopeful people, we live in an attitude of trust toward something that goes far beyond our comprehension and our conscious desires."

Julian of Norwich's observation is the foundation of my hope: "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well"

Bill Lewis said...

Great to hear all of your encouraging words, thoughts, prayers and reflections.

In some sense it seems that I tend to put my hope in "what" rather than in "who". What needs to happen, what do I need, what do I need to do. The alternate is who is reliable in all circumstances.

"In Christ Alone" all shall be well!

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