Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, January 22, 2023
Romans 4:18: In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations; as he had been told, “So shall your descendants be.”
Last Wednesday I learned that the theme of the upcoming Yearly Meeting session in Cuba this February has a theme drawn from Romans 4: 18. I realized that this is in fact an accurate summary of the theme of this message and it is one more example of the mysterious working of the Spirit.
This message is a personal reflection coming from the challenge I have felt in recent years to live in an attitude of hope.
I have struggled to continue to hold on to hope during the past years. It is not a new insight that one can lose hope in this world of brokenness and troubles. And it is also true that living in the awareness of God’s presence should be a source for hope. That hope is one of the fruits of faith and an essential attitude to be, in fact, the light of God in the world.
In the prayer attributed to St, Francis, there is a list of paired attitudes including “Where there is despair, let me find hope.” To be honest, in the face of climate change I feel despair, in the face of the politics in the country, I feel despair, in the face of entrenched and persistent structural racism and inequality, I feel despair. And then there is the pandemic which has separated me from community that has often connected me to the joy of God’s presence in my life.
My meditation on hope begins with recognizing that hope often is attached to specific outcomes – hope as a form of intercessory prayer. I hope (and pray) for peace I hope (and pray) for integrity in our politics, I hope (and pray) for healing, for the safety of my children, for relief for the captive and good news for the poor, for the climate, for justice.
I recognize this kind of hope has an unspoken assumption of both power and privilege – these are outcomes I deserve and over which I expect to have influence. Hope is an expression of autonomy and that this is a part of the reason that faith has a hard time holding on to this hope – that that system of power and privilege is what we are called from not what we are called to. We are called to a different relationship with the world, I am reminded that in a message that Francisco Burgos brought to Durham a couple of years ago he said “Hope attached to outcome is privilege”
And I recognize that when the outcomes I hope for do not happen, there is an invitation to despair. This kind of hope opens the door to being broken hearted.
Walter Wink, when talking about Christian non-violence as taught by Jesus, illustrated that Jesus was not talking about a binary choice between war or peace. Jesus was talking about a third way – about empowered non-violent resistance – about what early Friends called the “Lambs War”. That the binary choice was a false choice. That faith opened unexpected doors to unexpected ways of being powerful in the world without being violent.
The Hope of Faith is different than the Hope of desire.
I would like to share a few threads of what I found over the past few months, and in which I have found a way to be hopeful while feeling despair.
Veronice Miles on the BTS podcast “climate changed” in the episode “If I can’t make a difference than what do I do”, talked about hope as an “inward yearning for the kingdom – (the beloved community (MLK)” – this yearning requires imagination to yearn for something that we have never experienced, something extraordinary, something barely known- what Brueggemann called a Prophetic imagination. It seems to me that this inward yearning is our part of seeking the inward light.
Peterson Toscano talks about “Embodied hope” – hope that comes not from our mind but that is felt in our bodies – the lift in one’s heart, one’s body when we are surprised by beauty or grace. This is the hope of our hands and our back – the hope expressed in what we do.
Jen Wilkin in an essay on the Sermon on the Mount, talks about Jesus teaching us to obey – and knowing that we can obey and through this obedience therein lies hope. And Jesus is clear that obedience is to love.
The prayer Jesus taught begins with two elements – first “thy kingdom come, thy will be done” It begins with our embracing of God’s will. What matters is not our hoping or thinking or desiring but obedience and then the prayer continues with “Give us this day our daily bread, Forgive us our trespasses, Lead us from evil”. These are demands – we are taught to both embrace God’s will, and to demand our daily bread.
In the face of broken heartedness as an outcome of the Hope of Desire, I am trying to embrace the Hope of Faith. A Hope not attached to outcomes but to doing, hope not attached to wishing but to demanding, not to knowing, but imagining, and not to thinking but feeling. Hope not as the opposite of despair, but a third way of empowered prophetic surrender. Hope not as a choice but as the path.
Finally Wendell Berry in one of his Sabbath Poems says “ What I fear most is despair for the world and for us; [despair which results in] forever less of beauty, silence, open air, gratitude, unbidden happiness, affection, unegotistical desire.” Finding a way of living in that faithful stance of hope is also finding a way to experience “forever more of beauty, silence, open air, gratitude, unbidden happiness, affection, unegotistical desire.”