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

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

From: Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer

Spiritual Wholeness

We must distinguish, of course, between feelings and virtues.  Hope is not merely a feeling.  Hope is a virtue, a firmly established attitude of the heart, a basic bearing of the whole person.  And yet we need only think of despair, the opposite of hope, to realize that feelings play an outstanding role in this area.  Intellect, will, and emotions are all engaged in every virtue.  The virtue of faith, for instance, characterizes every aspect of a faithful person’s life.  And yet here the cognitive power plays a predominant part.  The virtue of love, as we shall see, transforms the whole person.  Yet, at its core, love is an attitude of the will.  In a similar way, the emotional aspect predominates in the virtue of hope, though intellect and will are certainly also affected.  Neither intellect nor will should be misunderstood as if they were atomistic elements of our psyche.  To misunderstand the emotions in this way would be almost impossible.  It is so obvious how feelings always affect the whole person.  This holistic quality of our feelings should help us understand how hope is a mark of spiritual wholeness.

The intellect perceives reality under the aspect of truth.  The will reaches out toward reality under the aspect of goodness.  What appeals to our feelings is reality under the aspect of beauty.  Our experience of beauty starts in our senses, but it goes beyond the sensuous.  So do our feelings.  Our whole being reverberates in response to that splendor of the real which we call beauty – so much so that for a moment we may feel ourselves transfigured by that radiance, which we behold not only before us, but within ourselves.  Our intellect must labor for truth.  Our will must struggle uphill toward goodness.  But our feelings flow effortlessly toward beauty, with a graceful ease that reminds us again of the dancing stillness of hope.

There are other points where hope and beauty touch.   One of these points is a paradox built into our attitude toward beauty, a paradox that sheds new light on hope.  On the one hand, beauty always catches us by surprise.  It always has the luster of a gift that is not only unexpected, but undeserved.  Yet, on the other hand, we expect beauty.  Deep in our heart we expect even our own beauty as a kind of inalienable birthright.  Isn’t that so?

… why is it
we find the ugly unfair, not at all what the flesh
was meant to be heir to, and as for beauty, assume
a family right, as to an unforgettable heirloom?

Dorothy Donnelly asks this intriguing question in “Trio in a Mirror,” a poem in which she explores the connection between beauty and hope.  The answer she suggests is this:

“You are gods!” God said.  But you are dark. A cloud is on the star,
And not a mirror in the world can show how beautiful you are.

Hope can see what no mirror in the world can show.  Hence,

Happy fault, the flaw, which offending,
lets us see we have eyes for the perfect.

Our eyes for the perfect are the eyes of hope.  Hope looks at all things the way a mother looks at her child, with a passion for the possible.  But that way of looking is creative.  It creates the space in which perfection can unfold.  More than that, the eyes of hope look through all imperfections to the heart of all things and find it perfect.

The eyes of hope are grateful eyes.  Before our eyes learned to look gratefully at the world, we expected to find beauty in good looking things.  But grateful eyes expect the surprise of finding beauty in all things.  And they do find it (remaining surprised).  Goethe knew this when he wrote, late in his life:

You fortunate eyes!
Whatever you saw,
Whatever it was like,
How beautiful it was!

Before our hope was purified, we expected the best, or at least the second or third best.  But pure hope expects the surprise that even the worst, if it happens, will be the best.  And pure grateful hope is never disappointed in this expectation.

I gave away the clue to this paradox by saying that we are aware of it “deep in our heart.”  Our innermost heart is that realm of full integration, where we find our authentic identity: God’s life within us.  There, faith is simply God’s life as known by heart-knowledge; that means known as faithfulness.  And how does the heart perceive hope?  Maybe we could call hope God’s life as felt by heart-feeling; that means felt as beauty – expected and still surprising beauty – gracefulness.  Imagine the gracefulness of a young prince, and you will see how birthright and surprise concur.  At heart we are all youthful princesses and princes.  The spirit of hope is a princely spirit.  “Spiritus principalis,” Saint Jerome called it in translating the verse “a steadfast spirit renew within me,” (Psalm 51:10).  The steadfastness of hope is anchored in the heart.

If living from the heart means grateful living and faithful living, it also means living full of hope.  Thus, hope gives fiber to our engagement in the great concerns of our world today.  We shall examine this aspect of hope more closely.

 

 

 

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