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

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

From: Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer

Pure Hope

Hope, as passion for the possible, gives us a realistic alertness for practical possibilities.  It gives us a youthfulness that sees the possible limited merely by an ever receding horizon.  The princely spirit of hope initiates and determines our moral engagement.  For it is rooted in the heart, where each of us is most intimately united with all others – and so responsible for all.  Everything depends, of course, on how pure our hope is, how deeply it is rooted in the heart.  There is ample room for self-deception here.  So how can we check ourselves.

Maybe we could subject our hope to a simple test.  It’s not a foolproof test.  Nor is it very precise.  But it may give us a clue.  You may want to try it out on one of your pet projects.  First list the various hopes you have in view of that particular project.  That’s step one.  Next, use your imagination to picture every single one of those hopes going down the drain.  You may want to dwell on that possibility just long enough to feel the degree of despair to which it would tempt you.  The hope that is left after all your hopes are gone – that is pure hope, rooted in the heart.

We have made an important distinction here between hope and hopes.  It parallels our earlier distinction between faith and beliefs.  We saw that faith leads to beliefs, just as hope leads to hopes.  Yet, faith does not depend on beliefs, nor does hope depend on hopes.  We even saw that beliefs can get in the way of faith.  In a similar sense, hopes can get in the way of hope, stop up and block pure hope’s openness for surprise.  It makes a world of differences where we put our weight – on those hopes out there ahead of us, or on “the hope that is within.”

A person of hope will have a whole array of lively hopes.  But those hopes do not tell us much.  The showdown comes when all the hopes get shattered.  Then, a person of hopes will get shattered with them.  A person of hope, however, will be growing a new crop of hopes as soon as the storm is over.

Those little hopes look harmless enough at first sight.  They may even look impressively altruistic: Is not everything done in the best interest of those whom we want to help?  But sooner or later we discover that those others don’t exactly share the hopes we have for them.  Poor things, they don’t know any better.  And, human nature being what it is, we might find ourselves pursuing our hopes more vigorously than those for whom we have such high hopes would like.  Parents have ruined their children’s lives for the sake of the hopes they had for them.  Spouses have ruined one another’s lives on account of hopes they considered the best for each other.  Great nations, our own included, have been known to pursue over the dead bodies of other peoples – millions of bodies, torn, mutilated, burnt to death – hopes those peoples should have had, according to our conviction, not their own.

Hopes do not hasten the coming of peace on Earth.  Only hope does.  For we can all too easily get stuck in our hopes, but no one can get stuck in hope.  Hope liberates – first from the bondage of hopes, then from every other bondage.  Pure hope is so steadfastly anchored at the moorings of the heart that it can afford to hold its own hopes lightly.  That is the way a mother holds her children, lightly, no matter how firmly she holds them – always ready to give them up so they can grow, yet never letting them down.  Hope mothers her hopes.  And hope’s dearest child is peace.

Hope, as openness for a future that does not come later, fully understands the watchword of the Catholic Worker: “There is no way to peace; peace is the way.”  Hope brings forth peace because it is rooted in peace, rooting in the heart where we are already one with all others.  Hope unites.  Hopes differ and tend to divine us.  But we are united “in one hope,” (Ephesians 4:4).  And this “we” includes all creatures, the whole universe.  “The whole of creation groans in a common labor pain,” as Saint Paul sees it, “in hope,” (Romans 8:21f).  What all creation is mothering forth in this labor of hope is God’s “glory,” our common princely birthright, “to be revealed in us,” (Romans 8:18).  “In fact, the fondest dream of the universe is to catch a glimpse of real live sons and daughters of God,” as Clarence Jordan renders this passage of Romans in his delightful Cotton Patch Version of Paul’s Epistles.  That hope is universal.  For, just as faithfulness is at the heart of all things, so is hope.

And yet, how realistic is this hope?  Look around you.  Listen.  From every corner of the world rises the cry: Time is running out!  Everywhere it is the same: our wasteful green lays this world waste; our fearfulness stockpiles threats that threaten to bring about what we most fear; our indifference fails to act when we ought to care, and so we cripple our own power to make a difference when at least we do care.  It is hard to believe, but every day of the year one endangered species of plant or animal life is forever lost.  Extinct.  In one day this world spends more money on weapons than the United Nations can scrape together in a whole year for the World Food Fund.  Every single day hunger kills as many men, women, and children as if a city of fifty-seven thousand inhabitants were wiped off the map.  Wastefulness, fearfulness, indifference are undoing us fast.  Time is running out.

Once we have faced these facts, will it help to close our eyes again?  A painful truth has gotten under our eyelids.  There is no cure, but to open the eyes of our heart, the eyes of hope.  Hope discovers within that time which is running out a different kind of time – “time not our time” – a time that is coming to fullness.  It is under the image of mother and child that hope sees and celebrates in every moment “the fullness of time,” (Galatians 4:4).  Christmas happened when the mother’s time was “fulfilled,” (Luke 2:6), and she gave birth.  Christmas happens again, here and now, the moment we mother the princely child within us.  Mother and child – there is the image that challenges greed, fearfulness, and indifference.  Everywhere in the world, mothers nourish; they have courage, they care.  The mothers of the world challenge us to give birth to “the glorious freedom of the children of God,” (Romans 8:21), through hope.

Are there methods, models, techniques for dealing with our worldwide problems?  We must find them soon.  Nothing is more urgent.  But maybe it all begins with a change of attitude, a switch of emphasis from hopes to hope.  Maybe we must first become more motherly.  That means facing the whole enormous task, finding one small thing we can do, and doing it with a mother’s dedication.  In this way, hope is “redeeming the time,” (Ephesians 5:16).  Hope makes the most of time, exhausts time’s possibilities, even time’s unsuspected dimensions.  In time that grows old, hope sees time that is with child.  At the very moment when time is running out hope allows the fullness of time to break in.

With a view to that fullness of time, that “day of God” dawning, first century Christians asked, “What kind of persons ought we to be?”  And they gave a twofold answer: We ought to be “looking forward to the Day of God (and) hastening its arrival,” (2 Peter 3:12).  The looking forward is the alert vision of hope.  The hastening of the Day’s arrival is the alert action of hope.  Like a mother who looks at her child with the heart vision of hope and does the one little thing needed here and now, the alertness of hope joins vision and action together.  Thus, the action of hope springs from the vision of the Peaceable Kingdom that is already “within” us.  Isn’t this the way people like Pope John XXIII, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mother Teresa radiate what they already hold in hope?  This gives them power.  “In silence and hope shall be your strength,” (Isaiah 30:15).




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