Hope

One of the things we need most as we move into this new year is Hope. Not an expectation of wishes coming true, or anticipation of ease, but the indwelling of life energy that refuses to check out in the face of adversity.

A friend recently shared Jan Richardson’s new meditations on hope for this year’s “Women’s Christmas” retreat. (Women’s Christmas is an Irish tradition of Epiphany as a day for women to take a break from family and domestic obligations, gathering to relax and celebrate together.)  Richardson’s insightful observations are a testament to the journey through grief and faith she has walked for the past few years.

True hope beckons us to do more than wish or want or wait for someone to take action. It asks us to be the one who acts. It calls us to discern what lives beneath our wishes, to discover the longings beneath our longings, to dig down to the place where our deepest yearning and God’s deepest yearning are the same. When we find that, when we uncover those deepest desires, hope invites and impels us to participate in bringing about those things for which we most keenly long.  – Jan Richardson

Our deep and true longings are placed within as a gift. They are a spark of the divine that urges toward what will bring us into health and wholeness. It is painful when what we love or value is taken away, yet the longing for what we know is good continues to call us into life. This energy that pulls us forward is cause for Hope.

Hope has work for us to do. It asks us to resist going numb when the world within us or beyond us is falling apart. In the height of despair, in the deepest darkness, hope calls us to open our hearts, our eyes, our hands, that we might engage the world when it breaks our hearts. Hope goes with us, step by step, offering to us the manna it holds. – Jan Richardson

Trust is a close relative of Hope. When we don’t know how to make things better, when the way forward is dark, being able to trust that we’ll be given what we need allows us to keep going. It helps to remember times in the past when our needs have been met and we have been led forward. We can recall events from our individual lives or from our collective life together.

Hope is not always comforting or comfortable. Hope asks us to open ourselves to what we do not know, to pray for illumination in this life, to imagine what is beyond our imagining, to bear what seems unbearable. It calls us to keep breathing when the world falls apart around us or within us, to turn toward one another when we might prefer to turn away. Hope draws our eyes and hearts toward a more whole future but propels us also into the present, into this day, where God waits for us to work toward a more whole world now.  – Jan Richardson

Hope is a kind of strength, though not a strength that we have to cultivate alone. As we share our disappointments and longings, honoring the authentic yearning of our hearts, we hold space for the new life that wants to come through us and be born into the world. The energy of that life force will not be denied. When we experience its flow we cannot help but dwell in hope.

 

Beyond Personal Growth: Trusting the Mystery of Transformation

It took a long time to make much progress through John O’Donohue’s Anam Ċara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom. I mean that in the best of ways. The Gaelic term, anam ċara is literally “soul friend,” and if books can be friends, this is such a one. Most pages hold something rich enough to send me off thinking about it for a while. I’ve kept returning through about two-thirds of it now, and today this is the passage on my mind:

Spirituality is the art of transfiguration. We should not force ourselves to change by hammering our lives into any pre-determined shape. We do not need to operate according to the idea of a predetermined program or plan for our lives. Rather, we need to practice a new art of attention to the inner rhythm of our days and lives. This attention brings a new awareness of our own human and divine presence.

A willingness to grow is a good thing, but the programs and plans available to encourage our development are overwhelming. Bookstore shelves teem with personal growth books, religious and secular, as if we can’t stop flagellating ourselves with agendas for self-improvement. And yes, I’m familiar with these store displays because I’m irresistibly drawn to them. It’s hard to pass up some bit of wisdom that will make me more capable, more fulfilled, more deserving. When an article promises to share Five Steps to Happiness, I can’t help but read it.

I want to grow, but I’d prefer to do it without all the messy uncertainty and annoying unpredictability of not knowing the way. I would love to learn what to do and just do it. But O’Donohue spells out what’s lacking in such a prescribed approach:

It is far more creative to work with the idea of mindfulness rather than the idea of will. Too often people try to change their lives using the will as a kind of hammer to beat their life into proper shape. The intellect identifies the goal of the program, and the will accordingly forces the life into that shape. This way of approaching the sacredness of one’s own presence is externalist and violent. It brings you falsely outside yourself, and you can spend years lost in the wilderness of your own mechanical, spiritual programs. You can perish in a famine of your own making.

Creating, growing, transforming—these are all mysterious processes. They happen underground, in the depths, in the dark. Paying attention while a process unfolds that we can neither control nor rush is a counter-cultural way of life. It can be hard to learn and harder to trust.

But if we lose faith and limit ourselves to the kind of processes we can control, we banish ourselves to the wilderness O’Donohue describes. Will power is hard work, and doesn’t make for a very joyful life. Maybe it’s trust power I need to work on.

What kind of power keeps you moving forward?