Sunday, December 8, 2013

From Hope to Peace

December 8, 2013

Dear friends,

Each evening this week I have re-lit the first Advent candle, the one that by long tradition represents hope. While I personally celebrate Advent in its Christian context, this week I have also thought about hope in a broader context, about its complexity, its importance and its fragility. 

We recognize the importance of hope, and understand that without hope life itself can become a burden too heavy to carry. Nevertheless, despite our awareness of its importance, the complexity and fragility of hope challenges us. Somewhat to our surprise, we find the process through which hope is developed to be neither effortless nor self-evident. Consequently, the practice of wishful thinking serves as a substitute for hope on many occasions.

The act of breathing generally takes little conscious effort. No doubt it is a good thing for the human race that the process by which we secure sufficient oxygen to survive is instinctive and largely under the control of autonomic physical systems. But unlike breathing (and unlike wishful thinking as well), the process by which we develop hope does not occur automatically. To hope is a vital life skill that requires acquisition through conscious thought and emotional effort.

To erect a foundation upon which hope can rest is an enlightening experience for most of us. Clearing out soul space for hope requires that we face straight on issues of what our culture in a glib fashion labels positive self-esteem. Authentic hope does not require us to deny the image of God that we carry nor to devalue ourselves or our gifts, of course. Hope flourishes, however, in an environment that embraces the reality of human limitations.

If we assume that hope can rest solely or safely on our own inner resources we move (sooner rather than later) to the cynic’s point of view that hope is nothing more than a distorted denial of reality. On the other hand, if we assume that hope rests solely on forces and resources beyond our conscious awareness and logical expectation, we will find ourselves lost in the land of magic and make-believe.

Hope belongs to the realm of working mysteries. Its presence is expressed through the functional resilience of the spirit in ways we can neither measure nor command.

Hope is not dualistic; to the contrary, hope is holistic. Hope functions as a process of expectation in which that reality that lies beyond individual experience becomes commingled with the limited reality of personal history. This permits us to live into the future trusting that tomorrow will contain more than the simple sum of our human capacity to dream and perform as we know it. While not incongruent with history, the tomorrow that hope anticipates does, however, transcend it. Hope teaches that whatever yesterday has been, tomorrow holds a different reality with boundaries of surprise.

Does my ability to live resiliently within the reality that boundaries my present life depend upon my hopeful awareness of another reality that lies beyond my present experience?

Today is the second Sunday in Advent marked by the lighting of the second candle that signifies peace

You may think that this fact had escaped my attention since I have persisted again today in thinking about hope. Others of you will have already anticipated the question that is my goal. 

Is it possible for a heart without hope to experience peace?

Walking with you in the Shalom to which hope leads us.

See you next week.


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