Wednesday, February 28, 2007

lenten journal: abrigar esperanzas

I’ve spent a good deal of the day thinking about hope, thanks to a passage from Nora Gallagher’s book where she talks about Thomas’ encounter with Jesus after his resurrection and about the doubt Thomas expressed prior to seeing him.

There’s a phrase in Spanish: abrigar esperanzas, to shelter hope. Thomas may have been working hard not to believe the disciples’ story so to shelter hope. Hope is like love, maybe worse. It has to do with what is not yet, what is unseen, an architecture of dreams. If Thomas hoped to see Jesus again, and it turned out to be a hoax, what then? (52)
I think part of the reason it stuck with me was I was at a meeting at church last night and as our time was winding down the conversation turned to The Jesus Family Tomb, a new book and TV documentary coming out just in time for Lent and Easter. While many of us see this season as one of preparation, those in Christian marketing, or determined to market to Christians, see this as a season of sales. I’m sure this book and movie won’t be the last. One of the folks in our circle said, “I don’t think it’s true, but if it is, the implications for Christianity are enormous. I heard his sentiment as a variation on Gallagher’s question: if we believe in Jesus and it turns out to be a hoax, what then? How do we shelter hope?

According to dictionary.com, hope means “the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.” They also include an archaic definition: to place trust. The meaning has moved from trust, which is steeped in relationship to more of a synonym for optimism. When Barack Obama spoke at the last Democratic convention, his said:
I’m not talking about blind optimism here -- the almost willful ignorance that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don’t think about it, or the health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about something more substantial. It’s the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a mill worker’s son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too.

Hope -- Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope!
Hope is audacious, but not as a political slogan. And I think it is this kind of rhetoric that made Barbara Ehrenreich’s anger so apparent in her essay, “Pathologies of Hope” in the most recent issue of Harpers.
I hate hope. It was hammered into me constantly a few years ago when I was being treated for breast cancer: Think positively! Don’t lose hope! Wear your pink ribbon with pride! A couple of years later I was alarmed to discover that the facility where I received my follow-up care was called the Hope Center. Hope? What about a cure? At antiwar and labor rallies over the years, I have dutifully joined Jesse Jackson in chanting “Keep hope alive” – all the while crossing my fingers and thinking, “Fuck hope. Keep us alive.”
Her words made me think of the scene in Terms of Endearment when the doctor tells Debra Winger she has breast cancer and then says, “I always tell my patients to hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” to which Shirley MacLaine replies, “And they let you get away with that.”

Ehrenreich finished her article by quoting Camus, who said we draw strength from the “refusal to hope, and the unyielding evidence of a life without consolation.”

Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.

What I realize, reading back through her article, is I think of hope in the archaic sense, more akin to faith than optimism: the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. The paradox is rich and demands trust: finding substance in the not yet and evidence in the invisible. I’m not sure hope calls us to rally as much as resolve, and less to positivity than perseverance.

I like Gallagher’s phrase: the architecture of dreams.

One of the most beautiful buildings I know is Trinity Episcopal Church in Boston. From its terra cotta colored exterior, with all the spires and coves, to the intricacy of the interior, with the variety of stained glass, the elevated pulpit, the murals on every wall, and the gold plated reliefs of the disciples encircling the Communion table, it takes my breath away. It is truly sacred space. It is also obvious that every move made creating the structure was done with intentionality. And before any bricks were stacked or mortar mixed, an architect imagined it and drew the dream into being. Those blueprints were the substance of things hoped for.

Hope is not positive or even wishful thinking; hope is hard work.

Hope needs sheltering. From one side come those who would water it down, who continue to say all it takes is a positive attitude – we just need to be hopeful; from the other side, are those who think we must just come to terms with the fact that life sucks and we die. If we have no expectations, we can’t be hurt or disappointed. When I look at Thomas, I think part of his reticence was he had not experienced what all the others had. The reason none of them had doubts is they had seen Jesus. He may have had his doubts, but he went to the room and waited. When Jesus came, he offered himself to Thomas. We’re the ones who stuck Tom with “Doubting” as a first name, not Jesus.

I’m not living a live-action version of the Three Little Pigs, where James Cameron and his film crew come in dressed as wolves and blow the church down with their boxes of bones. The shelter of hope is not made of straw, nor is it built on sand. I trust in the love and grace of God because I’ve got the scars to prove they are real.

I hope that’s enough.

Peace,
Milton

9 comments:

Seth said...

Milton, This post really resonates with me because I, too, hold your thoughts about hope.

"I think of hope in the archaic sense, more akin to faith than optimism: the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. The paradox is rich and demands trust: finding substance in the not yet and evidence in the invisible. I’m not sure hope calls us to rally as much as resolve, and less to positivity than perseverance."

These very same statements are reflected in one of the most powerful books I've ever read. It's called A Hope in the Unseen (Ron Suskind, Broadway Publishers...Suskind won a Pulitzer for his series, in the Wall Street Journal, about the young man in this book), and is about a young man (from the ghettos of Washington D.C.), who hopes for success, despite the obstacles in his way. He must rely on his faith, and his intellect, and his perserverence to get him through.

Lots of people have a hope that their dreams come true, but lack the faith and stick-to-it-iveness that is neccessary for our hopes to be achieved. Your thoughts were well stated!

- Seth

William "Papa" Meloney said...

H.O.P.E.

His Omnipotent Plan for Eternity

Rich said...

I'm honored to have been mentioned in the same "Abbey of the Arts" blog post as you, Milton. Your heartfelt words move me deeply. I'll be a regular here from now on. Thank you for the blessings you bring with your sweet words.

anj said...

You speak to me in two places today. When I first became of Friend(Quaker), and started worshiping with some who did not believe in Jesus, I had to wrestle with what if I found out tomorrow that the cross and resurrection was not real, would it change my faith? I came to a place of deep knowing that my faith is built on who I know Jesus to be now, the love and grace of God, as you wrote, and that historical accuracy of facts could not disturb that knowing. Amazingly, that place of hope freed me to know the cross and resurrection were very important, even if I cannot articulate why to my satisfaction. And esperanza is one of my favorite words, I have never seen it combined with another word, with abrigar. Now I like it even more, for a few years I have been asking to know hope. To fullness of hope, what a gem you have given me here, thank you.

esperanza said...

Thanks for articulating all of this...it's something I've been living but not realizing fully. I've never heard "abrigar esperanza" either, but it's also interesting (and meaningful) that esperar (the verb form of hope) also can mean "to wait." Hence the name...

don't eat alone said...

Rich, thanks for the kind words. I will add Pilgrim Path to my blog roll.

Anj, I'm tracking what you are saying. It's a profound paradox.

Esperanza, I suppose this is your name day!

Peace,
Milton

Presbyterian Gal said...

Hey Milton, I left a message this morning and now it's disappeared! Blogger must be hungry today.

I'll try to remember. This is a lovely post and I appreciate your musings on hope. For me hope is not at all sweetness, light and gentle pats on the head. For me hope, faith and even the core of Christianity is a powerful, dangerous choice for life with an exclamation point. It's the harrowing path to eternal joy and oneness with God. Hope is having the huevos to step out into the black vortex of void with just a tiny whisper of "It'll be OK". And then being able to live with His OK not being your OK. Cause that's where the real hope and joy live.

don't eat alone said...

"Hope and Huevos" -- now there's an album title! Guy Clark, maybe?

Peace,
Milton

redbarn said...

I came here via Christine's list of Lenten resources; I enjoy your perspective, and especially appreciate this post about hope - so much that I linked it in my blog (redbarn.wordpress.com) And I like your combination of the four Fs - food, faith, family & friends. Keep writing and cooking!