by Mary Jo Loebig, O.C.D.
Although we do not think about it often, we carry within us something very special, and something very needed every single day. We were born with hope in our hearts.
Emily Dickinson has a charming poem on hope, in which she speaks of hope as being something feathered that perches in the soul and sings a tune without words.1 Perhaps, it is only the heart that hears and understands these words.
Hope sings most sweetly when the winds are high. Furthermore, our poet reproves any storm that might even think of being unkind to this little hope that has comforted so many hearts and kept them warm. Dickinson also intimates that she has heard this song everywhere, when the land is chilly and the seas are high. This hope, put in the heart of us all, is utterly faithful, is always there when times are rough, and is the cause of our being attracted to something new. In the unfolding events of our lives, hope opens up new spaces.
Open To Whatever May Come
Bernard Haring points out that God's initiative precedes all the events of our lives. In prayer, as well as these life-events, God speaks to us first and makes promises that God intends to fulfill. When things happen to us, it is good to ask ourselves: “What is God asking of us in this event, and where might hope be secretly at work?” We know that there are times when prayer seems dry. Maybe during these dry times it would be helpful to reflect on the events of the day or the past week, and ponder just how God might be carrying us into the future, for truly, that is the direction of hope. Hope strengthens, and is always at work, even in those moments when we think we have no hope. It enables us to remain open and receptive to whatever may come. Indeed, there have been times when hope carried us into the future without our having planned it.
Hope is difficult to define or describe. In the Introduction to Seeds of Hope, Robert Durbeck tells us that “hope is the inner dynamic that compels us to explore and pursue expectations built into the human condition.”2 He states that it is much like standing before a bridge and deciding whether or not to cross, all the while not knowing what is on the other side. It is our human hungers that spur us on. In With Open Hands, Henri Nouwen points out the basic components of hope. He writes: “Hope expects the coming of something new. Hope looks ahead toward that which is not yet. Hope accepts and risks.”3 Furthermore, hope enables us to stay open to whatever today or tomorrow might bring. It enables us to go forward fearlessly, but wisely, not knowing how things might turn out. As the saying goes: “A ship is safe in the harbor, but that is not what a ship is for.” We know, too, that out of small beginnings, greater things may come. This happens through the quiet work of hope within us.
Hope Can Heal Memories
I like to think that hope has another face, that of intuition. There are times when we just seem “to know” that, up ahead, things will work out well. Without concrete evidence, we may even sense that God is going before us. We say that going in a particular direction “feels” right. There are other times, though, when going in a particular direction does not “feel” right, and is not the way to go.
St. John of the Cross speaks of hope as purifying our memories, meaning that no matter what happens, we are to place our trust in God. Those, who have prayed this part of John's writings forward, feel that hope can heal memories. There may have been happenings in our lives that have left us with a hurt. We may find ourselves carrying it around, every day. Still, life, over all, is good. God, through other life-events, will give us all we need for the journey. Hope wants to heal the hurts.
How Does One Pray
Finally, we come to the question: “How does one pray with hope?” When we pray with hope, we do not concern ourselves with whether or not our wishes will be granted. Basically, the prayer of hope is a prayer of trust. The heart simply tells us to place all our trust in a faithful God, who will never fail us. If God does not grant this particular request, God may well give something else in its place. We are to keep our eyes open, so as not to miss what this “something else” might be.
There are various symbols for hope. St. John of the Cross, in his poem, The Dark Night, speaks of setting out with no other light to guide him, except the light that burns within. In a way, hope is that quiet light. Then too, I like to think that, like faith, a little bit of hope goes a long way. As I write, an oriental saying comes to mind: “If you keep a green bough in your heart, the singing bird will come.” Easter and the coming of spring surely bring new hope. Sometimes, all we need to do is to find a little green bough, place it in our hearts, and hope for all that God wants to give us. It will surely come.
1 Emily Dickinson Poems, “Hope,” ed. Joanna Brownell (Edison, NJ, Castle Books, 2002) p.64.
2 Henri Nouwen, Seeds of Hope, ed. Robert Durback (New York: Bantam Books, 1989), p.XXVII.
3 Ibid., p.XXVIII.
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