By Rev. Anna Blaedel
The college students I have the pleasure of working with spend a lot of time grappling with hope. They yearn for it, long for it, savor it, sense a deep and urgent need for it. Many of our campus ministry conversations circle back to our relationship with hope:
Is it possible to be hopeful in a world marked so persistently with pain, injustice, oppression, and loss?
Even if it’s possible, is it faithful, ethical?
Should we give up on hope, entirely?
Should we hope for hope even more passionately?
These students are wise, and they know how often ‘hope’ masquerades as optimism, naiveté, pie-in-the-sky pretending that everything is, or will be, fine, despite all evidence to the contrary. If hope is a refusal to pay attention to the realities of life—including our political tragedies and unfolding traumas of white supremacy, anti-immigrant vitriol, unchecked corporate greed, and ecological crises of existential proportion—then they want nothing to do with it. They know how dangerous hope can be, when hope is used to deny trauma, cover over loss, diminish suffering. And yet. Succumbing to despair, giving up on life and imagination and possibility can’t be the answer, can it? Just as these wise young people refuse to deny the urgent and painful realities demanding our attention and response, they also refuse to deny the incredible beauty, generosity, tenderness, resilience, goodness, gift, and holiness of enfleshed life.
Maggie Nelson writes, “When I say ‘hope,’ I don’t mean hope for anything in particular. I guess I just mean thinking it’s worth it to keep one’s eyes open.” Spoken word artist Andrea Gibson begins their poem “Say Yes” with these words:
When two violins are placed in a room
if a chord on one violin is struck
the other violin will sound the note.
If this is your definition of hope,
this is for you.
Keeping one’s eyes (and ears and heart and mind and life) open. Striking chords of connection. Remembering and honoring our intricate and intimate interconnectivities.
Theopoet Rubem Alves offers: “What is hope? It is the hunch that the overwhelming brutality of facts that oppress and repress us is not the last word. It is the suspicion that reality is much more complex than the realists wants us to believe; that the frontiers of the possible are not determined by the limits of the actual; that in a miraculous and unexpected way life is opening up creative events. For creation to take place, suffering and hope cannot be separated. Suffering is the thorn that makes it impossible or us to forget that there is a political task still unfinished—still to be accomplished. And hope is the star that tells the direction to follow. The two, suffering and hope, live from each other. Suffering without hope produces resentment and despair. Hope without suffering creates illusions, naiveté. So let us plant dates even though we who plant them will never eat them. We must live by the love of what we will never see.”
In Hope Draped in Black: Race, Melancholy, and the Agony of Progress, Joseph Winters argues for thinking hope and melancholy together, recognizing both are rooted in a shared vulnerability to one another, a need for each other, and for responding to each other’s needs with tenderness, and care. “Perhaps this play between pleasure and suffering, or hope and anguish, is where we should end—and begin. A wound and an opening. It suggests that better horizons and possibilities might be enabled and opened by a heightened and more vulnerable awareness of the wounds and damages that mark our social worlds. A more generous and promising world relies on an opening toward, rather than attempts to escape from, the fractured quality of social life. Through this difficult vulnerability, this bitter earth might not be so bitter after all.”
Holding suffering and hope together. Opening toward, rather than attempting to escape from, the pains and wounds of our collective life, so precious and precarious. Vulnerable awareness of our wounds, and our wounding impacts. Opening toward the grace and gifts of our connections, so human and divine. What is your relationship with hope?