Editor's Note: This article was originally published on the second anniversary of September 11. Sadly, reading it midway through 2017, we see that the world situation is not much changed. We need to hold up hope now more than ever.
On this the second anniversary of September 11, as the "road map" to peace between Israel and Palestine is being battered by occupation missiles and suicide bombers, as Iraq becomes increasingly unstable and perilous for both civilians and military personnel, and as domestic political and economic battles intensify, once again we feel compelled to contemplate and act upon what it means to live a spiritual life in wartime.
This week we are holding up hope. It may seem strange to focus on that spiritual practice when so much despair-inducing evidence is accumulating. But peril and despair breed hope, not the other way around.
Our readings consider some different ways to define hope, while the practices focus on ways to reinforce hope in your personal life. We'll pick up this theme again in the future and focus on ways to build hope in community.
- Scott Russell Sanders on Hunting for Hope
Scott Russell Sanders, one of our very favorite writers, was brought up short a few years ago by a comment from his son, Jesse: "Your view of things is totally dark," the young man charged. Sanders thought that was an unfair caricature (and so do we) but what's important is what was said next. Jesse continued: "You make me feel the planet's dying and people are to blame and nothing can be done about it. There's no room for hope. Maybe you can get by without hope, but I can't. I've got a lot of living still to do. I have to believe there's a way we can get out of this mess. Otherwise what's the point." Sanders responded to his son's concern by writing an extraordinary book about hunting for hope. He reports on the places where he -- and all of us really -- can find hope: in stories, in the people around us, in wildness, beauty, simplicity, and more. In this excerpt, Sanders looks for clues in the roots of the word hope.
- Joan Chittister on Hope as a Bedrock
"Every major spiritual revelation known to humankind is based on the bedrock of hope," writes Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun. Hope gives the faithful the power to believe in life, no matter what burdens and struggles they are facing. Hope, as a series of small actions, is also the antidote to despair.
- Michael Downey on Hope as an Opening to Possibilities
Hope, writes Christian theologian Michael Downey, is the proverbial middle child sandwiched between faith and love. Yet it is the very condition for the possibility of believing and loving.
- Melannie Svoboda on Hope as Getting More than We Wish For
Recalling Vaclav Havel's definition of hope as an "orientation of the heart," Svoboda explores what it means when we do not get what we hope for. God may want to give us something different or something far better.
The readings give us different ways to understand hope. But the best way to get in touch with its potency is to practice it. Here are some ways to work on having more hope in your personal life.
- Talk about your hopes and support others' hopes. In "Morning Sun on a White Piano," Congregational Minister Robin Meyers advocates the restoration of the ancient art of hoping.
- Hope is often described as light: a candle in the dark, the glow at the end of the tunnel. Kent Nerburn uses this metaphor in a teaching story from his book of meditations on the Prayer of Saint Francis. Set aside a meal with your family or friends to talk about the people who have brought hope into your lives. Give thanks to God for their testimonies and than identify one place in your community where you can serve as a beacon of hope.
- Write affirmations to express your hopes for yourself and a better world. The sacred texts from all traditions contain assurances that give rise to hope. For example, "All things work together for good for those who love God." Or "Even though I walk through the darkest valley, you are with me." Try one of these hope boosters for a week, repeating it while you are walking, waiting in line, or at the beginning and end of a prayer session. See how the affirmation affects your mood and gives intention to your daily activities.
- In "Soul Between the Lines," workshop leader Dorothy Randall Gray suggests the following personal ritual. Write a hope on a piece of paper, fold it up, and bury it beneath a houseplant. As the plant grows, envision your wishes growing as well. This is an especially meaningful ritual for a day of remembrance.