Hope? No hope? It’s an Advent rumble! (Non-violent, of course …)
In this corner, the Christians. As 1 Peter 3:15 puts it, “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you ….”
My liberation theologian heroes certainly can account for hope and its urgencies: Maria Pilar Aquino would argue the need for Christians to be steeped in an empapamiento of hope, embued with hope, saturated with hope, so that our imaginations and our realities might be transformed. Ada María Isasi-Díaz described hope as a virtue, a disposition that gives us the passion to make our desires concrete, a bridge of motivation between the knowledge that reality is not what it should be, the desire for what reality could be, and the energy to work to achieve that reality.
And in the other corner, let’s have Buddhist teacher and philosopher Pema Chödrön. As she put it in When Things Fall Apart:
As long as we’re addicted to hope, we feel that we can tone our experience down or liven it up or change it somehow, and we continue to suffer a lot. In a nontheistic state of mind, abandoning hope is an affirmation, the beginning of the beginning. You could even put “Abandon Hope” on your refrigerator door instead of more conventional aspirations like “Everyday in everyway, I’m getting better and better.” We hold onto hope and it robs us of the present moment. If hope and fear are two different sides of the same coin, so are hopelessness and confidence. If we’re willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation. …
So, these are our choices? To hope, and suffer, or to not hope, and suffer less?
Hmm. Let’s try to split some of the differences. I think attending to what we attach to our hopes can help a lot.
I have really enjoyed this thought from one of my new favorite authors, Kristin Neff, in her book, Self-Compassion:
Rumination about negative events in the past leads to depression, while rumination about potentially negative events in the future leads to anxiety. This is why anxiety and depression so often go hand in hand; they both stem from the underlying tendency to ruminate.
Neff reminds us to be compassionate with ourselves about this tendency; after all worrying about negative possibilities helped our ancestors survive. We are here because of the worry of the generations. But remember what Pema said: “We hold onto hope and it robs us of the present moment.” So, there’s a link here: staying as in the present as possible as much of the time as possible. Because that’s where your real life is happening, and it is the only moment in which God or the Divine or the Sacred can be present to you, and you to it.
Even Jesus had a caution against ruminating … remember?
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Parent feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will God not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?’ or “What will we drink?’ or “What will we wear?’
And yet, not all of humanity has enough to eat or drink, or clothes or shelter. Elsewhere, Jesus says that if we give another something to eat or drink, if we cloth the naked or visit the imprisoned, we have done this for him; it is as if we have done it for God’s own self.
So, that is our concern. That is the hope we need to account for. Are we hoping to feed and clothe and shelter our neighbors? Surely we will find a way.
We are not to give up on this hope. We can’t look at a world where things are not as they should be, and not hope for — and work for — change.
So, we hope, but we don’t ruminate. Identify the positive thing we are hoping for, and whether there is anything to do or be in the present moment that helps bring it about. If there is something to do or be or work toward in the future, identify that, and return to the present moment.
Our mindfulness and return to the present moment — and being compassionate with ourselves in it — will lessen the suffering that’s piling up around the pain of what is not as it should be.
The pain of an injustice or grief or loss or hurt is real; it is the nature of being alive. Sometimes what we are hoping for is worth the pain of working for it, being concerned about it, even having it not come about … but still, how much suffering piles up around that pain, how much suffering accrues because of our ruminating … well, we can do something about that.
Let hope be an energy, and not a blueprint. Let hope be an orientation, and not an expectation. Let hope be an open hand and an open heart, willing to hold what is, but loosely. Let hope envision without being too attached to process or specifics of the outcome.
Let hope be love dreaming …
And tell me, what is your love dreaming up, in this moment? Whose hunger, whose thirst will be met?