Hope can seem so futile and remote in a world full of hate, cruelty, and inequality. Why would we hold out hope for the future when the harsh reality of the world stands ready to crush our optimism at a moment’s notice?
To be an advocate for hope is difficult at any time, but in the midst of the madness around us today it can seem a bridge much too far. Take the cynic’s route, the world’s oligarchs, autocrats, and rulers seem to say. It is much easier.
And they are right. It is easier to be a cynic. Hope is hard, but I want to believe that it is worth the effort.
One of my mentors is the Rev. Dr. Francis H. Wade, and recently I have been reading some of Frank’s writings on hope and joy. And belief. And feet. Let’s start with hope and joy and work our way around to the belief and feet.
Why would we have hope in the face of reality? By our language and our actions, we demonstrate that what we see as real is always serious, harsh, and cruel. Frank reminds us that the words “harsh reality” stand as one word, one idea, instead of two. “Our assumption,” he adds, “is that in order to be real, something has to be conventional, predictable, and compromised.”
I often speak of hope grounded in memory. Rebecca Solnit suggests that if you study history deeply, you “realize people have often taken on things that seemed hopeless — freeing the slaves, getting women the vote — and achieved those things.” Going back to our history and memory gives me hope.
Frank also calls on memory when speaking of hope, but from a different perspective. And this is where joy arrives. What if we have reality backwards? “What if joy, wonder, and peace,” he asks, “are what life is really about?” Can the harshness and bitterness be a passing phase? And he calls on a very personal memory to make the case for the reality of joy and hope. “All babies are born with the firm belief that joy, wonder, and peace are the norms of life….Babies are born with that understanding of life. And slowly, patiently, the elders of the world teach them that their view is wrong.”
We all know people who do not accept the world’s teaching. A friend of mine lived a joyful 99 years without losing her sense of wonder. “That’s wonderful!” — always spoken with joyful exuberance and a smile — was one of Anne’s favorite phrases. We heard it often. Living in a sense of wonder didn’t make Anne a Pollyanna. She lived her life more along the path that author Richard Holmes has encouraged when he challenged the rigidity of current perspectives and boundaries between disciplines and ideologies, calling instead for a culture with a “sense of individual wonder, the power of hope, and the vivid but questing belief in a future for the globe.”
Entering into the world as children, we began with the curiosity and amazement found at the heart of a wonder-filled life. Yet along our journeys, most step out of this sense of wonderment and instead become cautious, cynical, hardened, haughty or any number of other traits designed to protect our egos and allow us to function — or so we believe — in the adult world.
In taking those steps into what we see as reality, we too often lose the reality of a generous, more imaginative perspective. Perhaps our hope can be regained when we ground it in our natal memory.
Hope needs to lead to action, however, if we want it to be more than a feel good placebo. We have to believe in a better future, a better world. Frank suggests that hope is “hearing the music of the future; belief is dancing to it.” Belief is how we approach the uncertainties of life, “Making a guess about what is real and important and then acting on it.”
What if joy, wonder, and peace are the things that are real and important? Would we not live more fully with a generous, imaginative perspective? Would we not cry out against injustice? “Would we not,” Frank asks, “laugh at the notion of compromising with evil, hurting, and exploitation?”
Too many of us today are compromising with evil, hurting, and exploitation because we believe that’s what it takes to make the world work, or “we accept wrongs done to others as necessary for the greater good of society.”
We often like to think of a world without injustice in the abstract. But once again, Frank sets the record straight.
“I want something for my head. Instead, I am given something for my feet. Not a thing to understand, but a way to live.”
We have to live, Frank writes, “as if something were true. We will either live as if life is going someplace good, or we will live as if life is stuck in evil and not going anywhere.”
As the old saying goes: If you talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. It is only when we live in acting on our hope — out of a belief in joy, wonder, and peace — that we can find the true reality, as opposed to the harsh unreality, of life. Perhaps, as Frank writes in quoting one of my favorite Flannery O’Connor lines, “You will discover the truth, and the truth will make you odd.”
Have a good week.
More to come…
Note: The quotations from Frank’s writings are taken from Rites of Our Passage: Reflections Through A Christian Year, published in 2002 by Posterity Press.