Don't forget to hope

Down, never out. Kai Schreiber/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

I'd started addressing the subject of hopefulness in talks to small groups. I'd grown fond of quoting Vaclav Havel, the great Czech leader who had said that "hope" was the one things that people struggling in Eastern Europe needed during the era of Soviet domination.

Havel had said that people struggling for independence wanted money and recognition from other countries; they wanted more criticism of the Soviet empire from the West and more diplomatic pressure. But Havel had said that these were things they wanted; the only thing they needed was hope. Not that pie in the sky stuff, not a preference for optimism over pessimism, but rather an "orientation of the spirit." The kind of hope that creates a willingness to position oneself in a hopeless place and be a witness, that allows one to believe in a better future, even in the face of abusive power. That kind of hope makes one strong.

-- Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy

How easy, when current events bear sinister echoes of the past, to forget that history can and will repeat itself -- if you let it.

How easy, when you finally awaken to the systemic violence and injustice our world is built on, to forget that everyone has a choice. Always.

How easy, when the aging winter buffets your body and soul with blustery phlegm, to forget that you have soil, you have seeds, and you have the power to plant them.

In the face of the world's overwhelming trauma, indignity, aggression, injustice, inequality -- to say nothing of fate's mere caprice -- it's hard to "orient my spirit" and choose to bear witness. Harder still to believe I might be able to dent age-old problems. Hardest yet to contemplate moments of resonant joy and not find them insufficient for --or insulting to -- to the gravity of the situations at hand.

But where am I truly if I forget belly laughter with friends over a bowl of popcorn? The perfection of building a pillow fort to ward against a rainy day. The humility of people turning their pockets inside out to help a loved one in need. The sight of fifty women gathered in clusters to solve crises of homeland and heart. The utter relief and gratitude when harmful legislation fails. How easy to overlook these glimpses into a possible future and never absorb them, never grasp what they portend, never believe what they promise.

Because if I do not try to grasp and believe them, if I do not lift my trembling, measly, feather-plucked hope back to the wind-blown limb from which it was tossed, then I miss out on hope's attendant strength: the steady conviction that if I hold, raise up, and let go at just the right moment, then hope will fly.

Prayer #310: Hope is a Weed

Hope is a stubborn weed I pull with all my strength and never kill. Roots yanked, stems crushed, ground poisoned, it rises to defy its fate. Not only rises, but twists, snakes, worms its way around the two-layer fence I erected against all shadowy threats. Not only breaches the fence, but reaches the complacent beds I was certain I'd protected. Not only reaches them, but digs in deep. Real deep. Center-of-the-earth deep. So deep, in fact, that it takes root again, creeps back through the soil to the sun, and all the while laughs -- laughs! -- at my misplaced effort in a wild, unruly world.

Give me more weeds, God of hope. Overgrow my heart to choke out fear.