Hope: Such a simple yet powerfully evocative word, full of promise, full of potential, pregnant with possibilities – and at times, way beyond our reach. I heard recently that someone has limited their intake of news headlines to just 60 minutes per week, get the essentials and then switch it off. It makes sense on one level, the myriad of negativity and overwhelmingly sad stories can drain us and rob us of hope. Of course, there is so much more going on than what we hear in the headlines. There is good news, it’s just not always circulated. I love the ethos of Spirit Radio (a national Christian Radio Station, broadcasting from Bray), with its determination to capture good news stories as well as dealing with difficult topics. Yes there are terrible, really unspeakable things going on right now, but there is still hope.
So are we being delusional when we cling on to hope? Are we simply kidding ourselves? By no means! The bible teaches us that ‘suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope! (Romans 5: 3-4). Our present circumstances can either destroy us, (metaphorically and/or actually) or they can shape us for greater things. This Truth is one of the reasons that I love reading the bible, it is full of stories and insights that capture deep Truths. Like the image of the potter in Jeremiah 18, moulding and shaping vessels from rich wet clay and remoulding and reshaping when it doesn’t work out the first time. This is one of the reasons I have hope, because nothing is set in stone, and yet there are absolutes. It’s like a flow of water running down through a riverbed. Along the way there are huge rocks that the water has to navigate to keep moving forward. Those rocks shape the direction of the river. Interestingly, on my favourite beach in Wexford, (Morriscastle) there are constant changes in the direction and shape of the river that runs through the beach to get to the sea. This is due to the absence of rocks, the sand, not strong enough to control the river. Running water will always find a way through, whether it’s water tricking through sand, or countless centuries of rushing water carving out canyons.
The existence of Absolutes, Love, Truth, Hope, Joy, Forgiveness, sustains me in a world full of change and decay. When I have hope, I have ‘resilience’ (the ability to keep going whatever happens) and most importantly, I have ‘fortitude’, an old rarely used word, that speaks of the ability to not just exist or to survive but to actually grow through the experiences. It is said that one of Churchill’s greatest strengths lay in an unquestioning sense of Destiny. Destiny does so much more than give life purpose, it drives the bearer to do great things, born out of a sense that there is something much bigger than us at work. Of course ‘Destiny’ can be dangerous because it brings our focus back to ourselves and away from God, but it does play its part.
I love the poem by T.C. Hamlet ‘Two Frogs in Cream’,
Two frogs fell into a can of cream,
Or so I’ve heard it told;
The sides of the can were shiny & steep,
The cream was deep & cold.
“O, what’s the use?” croaked Number One,
“’Tis fate; no help’s around.
Goodbye, my friends! Goodbye, sad world!”
And weeping still, he drowned.
But Number Two, of sterner stuff,
Dog-paddled in surprise.
The while he wiped his creamy face
And dried his creamy eyes.
“I’ll swim awhile, at least,” he said—
Or so I’ve heard he said;
“It really wouldn’t help the world
If one more frog were dead.”
An hour or two he kicked & swam,
Not once he stopped to mutter,
But kicked & kicked & swam & kicked,
then hopped out…
While it is more than acceptable to be overwhelmed, and failure is definitely an option, we need to learn how to replace ‘coping’ with ‘hoping’. This is especially true now, at a time that there is real and present danger in despair. The danger is not just for ourselves but for our children and our children’s children. Unless we lay firm foundations of fortitude and real hope into their lives, we are robbing them of the opportunity to make the most out of life. Like us, they are struggling to cope in a world that is swirling, seemingly out of control. We are duty bound to teach them that there is so much more to life and to living than their immediate circumstances, that no matter how much they mess up, make mistakes, there is always a second chance; lessons can be learned; Hope (literally) springs eternal.