PRAYER: Hope—Openness For Surprise (Part Two) by Brother David Steindl-Rast

Hope—Openness For Surprise (Part Two) by Brother David Steindl-Rast

From: Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer

Between The Already And The Not-Yet

In the Bible we find, again and again, one key image for the quest of the heart: the image of the way.  This image will yield a deeper significance if we keep in mind that the Biblical way is always the way of a pilgrim.  It is the way on which one step, surprisingly, may lead us to the goal, and the goal may turn out to be, surprisingly, the first of many further steps on the road.  The image of the way tells us that we need not fear losing the thrill of the search, even though we find.  Nor need we fear losing the joyous possession of what we have found, even though there is no end to exploring.  T. S. Eliot, in his Four Quartets, speaks of the paradox of hope.  So keen are his insights and so powerfully expressed, that I would like to insert some of Eliot’s poetic lines into my own groping attempts to speak about hope.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

“We shall not cease from exploration,” because to be “on the way” means being on the move.  It makes little difference whether we sit down on the wrong way or on the right one.  As long as we are sitting, we are not on the way to anywhere.  Whenever we get comfortably settled, God says: “Your ways are not my ways,” (Isaiah 55:8).  That shatters our illusory security and puts us back out into the cold, on the dark road.  And that is a blessing.  The real threat is that God may let us have it our way until we are nauseated by what we most desired.  To be stuck in what we have found is no better than losing ourselves in the seeking.  Sooner or later we begin to realize that our finding is not really what matters, but our being found.  We come to see that our knowing the way is not what matters, but our being known.  In Biblical terms, the righteous may come to know the way only gropingly, but “the Lord knows the way of the righteous,” (Psalm 1:6), and that is what counts.

As pilgrims we have a goal.  But the meaning of our pilgrimage does not depend on reaching that goal.  It depends on remaining open in hope, open for surprise, because God knows our way far better than we do.  In that knowledge our heart finds rest while we keep moving on.  Hope as the virtue of the pilgrim accounts for both stillness and movement.  True, our expectant desire sets us in motion.  “Desire itself is movement / not in itself desirable,” (Four Quartets).  But the stillness in which we “rest in hope,” (Psalm 16:9) is certainly not something reserved for those who have reached the goal by reaching the end of the road.  On a pilgrimage, the goal is present in every step along the road, because the end precedes the beginning.  Resting in hope, we move, according to T. S. Eliot, in a dynamic stillness:

…as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.
Not the stillness of the violin, while the note lasts,
Not that only, but the co-existence,
Or say that the end precedes the beginning,
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end.
And all is always now….

The tension of hope, poised between the already and the not-yet, is basic for an understanding of the pilgrim’s way.  It is basic for that quest for meaning that is the pilgrimage of every human heart.  Whenever we find something meaningful, its meaning is given already and not yet.  It is there, but there is always more to it.  One doesn’t find meaning as one finds blueberries in some clearing in the woods – as something to pick, take home, and turn into preserves.  Meaning is always fresh.  We find it suddenly like the discovery of a unique shaft of afternoon light slanting out of low clouds and onto this same clearing in the woods.  In its light we can discover ever new marvels as long as we keep looking.

Saint Paul speaks of the infinitely unfolding splendor of meaning as “hope of glory,” (2 Corinthians 1:29).  We shall examine the connection between hope and glory later on.  In our present context it seems important to note that Saint Paul thinks of this hope of glory as already and not-yet.  On the one hand, it is “Christ in you,” (ibid.), the Christ life at the very core of our aliveness.  Thus, it is something already intimately given.  Yet, at the same time, that life of ours is still “hidden with Christ in God,” (Colossians 3:3), the God of boundless possibilities, of future, or surprise, of hope.  “Already we are children of God; what we shall be has not yet come to light,” (1 John 3:2).  We are still on the way.  But that way is Christ.

The Ground of Being, the Matrix of all there is, the invisible God is “God of hope,” (Romans 15:13).  Therefore, the “image of the invisible God,” (Colossians 1:15), must be “Way, “(John 14:6), the perfect symbol of hope.  Those who move on that “new and living way,” (Hebrews 10:20), “abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Spirit, (Romans 15:13).  As we reflect on those passages, we realize how hope is rooted in the very mystery of the Triune God.  The Father from whom we come and to whom we go is “God of hope.” The SOn in whom we live and who lives in us is “our hope.” The Holy Spirit, God’s very life within us, gives us the power to hope.

The Spirit of God fills the whole universe and draws all of creation into that great movement of unfolding hope.  Saint Paul describes this cosmic upsurge of hope in his Letter to the Romans, Chapter 8, verses 14–25, a passage worth rereading in this context.  God is and is coming.  The already and the not-yet coincide in God.  We may think of the God of hope as “still and still moving.”  Hope, as God’s life within us, unfolds in that creative tension.  T. S. Eliot says:

We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion….

The surprise within the surprise of every new discovery is that there is ever more to be discovered.  Hope holds the present open for an ever fresh future.  Let us remember, however, that it makes no sense to speak of past and future with regard to God.  God lives in “the now that does not pass away.”  Reflected into time, God’s now unfolds for us as past, present, and future.  As an aspect of God’s life, hope “lasts,” (1 Corinthians 13:13).  As experienced within us, hope is in a special way related to the future.  Hope holds us open in a twofold sense: for a future in time and for a future beyond time, God’s now.  That divine future does not come later.  Hope opens us to it by making every moment “the point of the intersection of the timeless / with time,” (Four Quartets).  Eliot also speaks of:

…the sudden illumination—
We had the experience but missed the meaning,
And approach to the meaning restores the experience
In a different form….

Hope has power to transform even the past by discovering in it new meaning.

What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

That end is the meaning of all.  And the mode in which it is present is hope.

Theological reflections like the ones in which we have been engaged just now have their place.  Saint Peter exhorts us: “Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to give an account of the hope you have within you,” (1 Peter 3:15).  But loving is ultimately the only account one can give of love.  What faith is like can best be shown by being faithful.  And so with hope.  Nothing will help us understand hope as much as a pilgrim’s life, “still and still moving,” day by day.  And nothing will be as convincing to others as the way we exercise hope in our inner attitude and in our outward behavior.  Let us therefore look at the mooring hope provides for our life.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: