Finding a Source of Renewal and Hope
“I find hope in the darkest of days and focus in the brightness. I do not judge the universe.” Dalai Lama
Wish. Yearn. Long for. What does hope mean in today’s world?
Surely we hope to stay well and safe. And It’s very possible we hope to find a job or return to the job we temporarily left or lost. We wish to enjoy the companionship of friends and relatives soon. We long for a decent night’s sleep. All these make perfect sense. I would only add that a life sustaining gift of hope is much bigger than wishes.
I recently visited a publisher friend in Pennsylvania who arranged a speaking engagement for me. The event took place at Christ Church, an Episcopal church in the Old City neighborhood of Philadelphia. Founded in 1695 as a parish of the Church of England, it played an integral role in the founding of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States. It also likely played a role delivering hope to immigrants, many whose relatives had died in a deadly smallpox epidemic. Then, in 1793, came Yellow Fever; then Scarlet Fever in 1858. The list goes on until we now find ourselves amid another global health catastrophe, still wondering about that illusive promise of hope.
My audience that day consisted of educated, older adults and church members. We enjoyed a spirited conversation and questions that one might expect from an informed, affluent group. That was until a young man stood up and waved my way with a question that startled everyone.
“I’m homeless,” he announced simply. “And my friends and colleagues are homeless. I don’t know how to speak to them about hope. I’m wondering if you can help me find a way to make hope real to them.”
A sincere conversation followed. I believe the young man left that day somewhat encouraged with thoughtful observations and ideas that had been offered. On the other hand, I have since spent hours exploring the meaning of hope. How do we make it more than a platitude? How do we make it real and honest? How do we apply it to our current situation in life, including life in the future?
Noted Franciscan theologian Father Richard Rohr says, “The theological virtue of hope is the patient and trustful willingness to live without closure, without resolution, and still be content and even happy because our satisfaction is now at another level and our source is beyond ourselves.”
The truth of this comes with a serious challenge. Willingness to patiently live without closure, is a tough assignment in a culture such as ours. We are doers and fixers. We plan, build, repair, and measure results. Anything involving ambiguity, loose ends, or lack of resolution feels like failure.
So, how do we hope in a broken world? I know one thing. We cannot wait for the future to come to us. We must create the future. We also might need to rethink the meaning of hope. On a personal level, I have chosen to invest in a few small and ordinary ways to maintain hope. These little “projects” have one common thread – renewal.
Plant a garden
I recently signed up for a community garden bed provided by a nearby Methodist church. Though I’ve always enjoyed gardening, this has become a truly restorative experience. Snow and frost finally released their grip on our Minnesota landscape. The earth began to warm. Seeds sprouted, and frozen perennials immerged in a magical rebirth. Lilies of the Valley have forced their way through the hardened dirt. And Lilacs have loosened their grip and released an abundance of fragrant blooms. It’s a renewal of the highest order. One that we can count on.
Cook for friends and neighbors
Preparing food with intention creates a life affirming and renewed connection with others. Food related beliefs appear in many wisdom traditions. In her book Feeding the Body, Nourishing the Soul, Deborah Kesten describes how honoring food through thoughtful preparation and then sharing it with sincerity makes it sacred. Frankly, so does serving it on paper plates in the driveway with a small group social distancing from one another!
Many religious and cultural traditions offer a spiritual perspective on food that we have forgotten over the centuries. When we furnish food with such sacred understanding, it nourishes both body and spirit. When we appreciate food in this manner, we also contribute in an essential part of healing and renewal.
Identify and count birds
My mother loved birds. My brother and I could tell a purple finch from a redpoll by age ten. Setting out birdfeeders and bluebird houses became a spring ritual, a promise of summer’s return. My mother also gave me a copy of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring for my high school graduation. She wanted both my brother and me to know that birds and the environment are the pulse of the world.
Today, when I walk the dog down the Dakota trail and gaze at eagles skirmishing above, and redwing blackbirds scolding from lakeside berry bushes, I can’t help feeling renewed. It also reminds me that I’m a guest of this beautiful earth. For our planet to safely reawaken each spring, I must honor and care for her.
Search for humor in all the odd places
Humor offers strong, renewable medicine for heavy hearts and anxious thoughts. It also serves as a reminder to stop taking ourselves too seriously. I have found humor to be a healing balm that often appears in unexpected places. Take for example washing groceries before putting them away. That piece of pandemic advice struck me as debatable the minute I heard it. It also yielded my first and last opportunity to shampoo an onion.
Meanwhile Zoom gatherings, though helpful, have tended to invite comedy. From online church featuring cats and dogs Zoom bombing, to first timers unwittingly showing up in a nightgown, it can feel like waking up in a Saturday Night Live spoof.
And speaking of Zoom bombing pets, the other night, my cat discovered a wayward field mouse under my desk. This alerted the Parson Russell Terrier who quickly, caught the mouse. Perplexed, though uninjured, the tiny rodent bit the dog, who wisely spit it out.
Next, the mouse made a run for the cat, who made a run for cover. In the end, the mouse circled around and headed for me. This turn of events caught me by surprise—so much so that I spontaneously reached out like a rookie center fielder and grabbed the little critter. It was a quick trip down the steps and out the front door in my pajamas before releasing this tiny invader in a pot of geraniums. the neighbors could only watch and wonder.
All of life is about renewal. Hope is about renewal. It is larger than wishes. Hope believes that life is continually emerging from even the most difficult circumstances. We can do the same. Hope defies all boundaries and refuses to accept misery as an option. It is a sign that we can trust in future good. We can anticipate that life will emerge from even the most difficult event or loss.